Ron Paul will place a disappointing third in the Iowa caucuses, according to a projection by CNN, perhaps dashing the Texas congressman's best hope for stealing a state in the Republican primary.

But Paul praised his supporters and said that his campaign's success was apparent in the shifting conversation in the Republican primary.

"The enthusiasm has been unbelievable, it's fantastic, it's national, thousands of people have been involved and they're ready and rearing to go," Paul said.

He went on to praise the campaign for "reintroducing some ideas that the Republicans have needed for awhile — and that is the conviction that freedom is popular." He said the fact that pollsters were asking whether Americans supported reforming monetary policy was itself a victory.

"We have tremendous opportunity to continue this momentum," Paul said. "It won't be long until there's an election up in New Hampshire. We're going to consider scoring just as we have tonight."

Paul was locked in a three-way tie with Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum through much of the night, but late results from college campuses were not enough to secure Paul a win in the Hawkeye State.

With 92 percent of precincts reporting, Paul had earned 21 percent of the vote. Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney were tied with 25 prevent of the vote each.

Still, the evening was a marked improvement over Paul's 2008 showing, when he won only Jefferson County. This time around, the Texas congressman held leads in 19 of the state's 99 counties.

And Paul was optimistic about his finish, describing himself as coming out of "an election where there was essentially three winners."

"One of three tickets out, which is obviously true, and one of two that can actually run a national campaign and raise the money. But there's nobody else that has people working hard and enthusiastic and believe in something. That is all the difference in the world," Paul said.