AUSTIN, Texas - U.S. Rep. Ron Paul said Tuesday he will concentrate on running for president and will not seek re-election to Congress, ending a 24-year career as one of the more colorful members of the House of Representatives.
The 75-year-old Republican said he will serve out his term through December 2012, whether his presidential campaign is successful or not. He told The Associated Press he has been criticized for running for Congress while seeking the presidency in the past.
Paul said the growing support for his 2012 presidential bid convinced him he should not divide his energies. He won a straw poll at the Republican Leadership Conference held in New Orleans last month.
"I think that you have more credibility if you run for only one office at a time," Paul said. He acknowledged that he may miss some House votes because of the presidential campaign, but that his staff would continue to provide constituent services.
As for the issues he feels passionately about, including U.S. foreign and economic policy, he said he will continue to fight for those either as president or from outside government.
"I believe I can continue to do what I have been doing outside of Congress," Paul said. "I was ready for a change."
The leader of the Republican Caucus in the Texas Legislature, state Rep. Larry Taylor, said Paul's retirement offers a "rare opportunity" for someone new to take the seat.
"I have received encouragement from conservative leaders across Texas this afternoon," Taylor said. "It is an opportunity that I will consider very seriously in the coming weeks."
Paul said that he was disappointed in how his district was redrawn by the Texas Legislature following the 2010 census. His new district is less heavily Republican.
"The district was weakened, there were a lot of new people, and it didn't overly excite me, but it isn't the reason" for not running again, Paul said.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, congratulated Paul on his career in Congress.
"Ron has served Texans in Congress with distinction for nearly 24 years as a fierce advocate for a more limited government," Cornyn said. "His steadfast devotion to his core beliefs has earned him the respect and loyalty from Texans and Americans of all walks of life."
The Texas Democratic Party appeared to relish Paul's presence in the presidential race, especially given another potential candidate from Texas, Gov. Rick Perry.
"Ron Paul has long been an unorthodox politician, someone who's defied GOP politicians as well as Democrats," party spokeswoman Kirsten Gray said. "He's likely to carry that quality into the GOP presidential field, where he could cause problems for Rick Perry and other Republicans by calling them out for the hypocrisy and inconsistency within their party."
Perry is weighing whether to enter the race for the GOP presidential nomination, and has been reaching out to Republican officeholders in New Hampshire and Iowa.
Paul, a former obstetrician, has served 12 terms in Congress from a Southeast Texas district along the Gulf Coast south of Houston. He was first elected in 1976 in a special election, but later lost the general election. He won again in 1978, but stepped down in 1984. In 1988 he ran for president as a Libertarian.
He launched another congressional campaign in 1996, defeated a Republican incumbent and has remained in office since then.
Paul's mix of libertarian and Republican politics has prompted many to call him the "intellectual godfather" of the tea party movement. He opposes U.S. military involvement overseas, wants to remove marijuana from the federal list of controlled substances and believes the United States should return to the gold standard.
He has introduced legislation to abolish the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Reserve, which he said is designed to "deceive and defraud the American people."
Personal responsibility and more power to the states are Paul's hallmarks. He opposes federal flood insurance, farm subsidies and the Department of Education, earning him the nickname "Dr. No."
Paul has routinely turned down pork-barrel spending for his own district, but has earned praise at home for refusing to sign up for lucrative pension benefits to which he is entitled as a member of Congress. He is the author of six books on politics and monetary policy.
His son, Rand Paul, represents Kentucky in the U.S. Senate.