Has Ron Paul become electable?

In a head-to-head matchup with Obama, GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul is within striking distance, a new Gallup poll shows. But Mitt Romney and Rick Perry are running stronger.

Jim Cole/AP
Republican presidential candidate, Rep. Ron Paul, (R) of Texas, speaks with area business leaders, Thursday, Aug. 18, at the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce in Concord, N.H.

Look behind you Mitt Romney – has Ron Paul suddenly become electable?

That’s a conclusion one might draw from a new Gallup poll that pits Republican presidential candidates against President Obama in head-to-head matchups.

The GOP establishment’s view of Representative Paul, an anti-foreign-intervention pro-gold-standard libertarian, is that he’s a sideshow, and not an amusing one. He is dismissed as someone with a committed core of supporters but little appeal to Republican voters as a whole or the country at large.

Yet in the Gallup survey, among registered voters Paul trails Mr. Obama by only two points – 45 percent to 47 percent. That’s within the poll’s margin of error.

Wow! Is Jon Stewart that powerful? He complained recently that Paul was getting ignored by the media, if you remember. Paul coverage has since surged. OK, maybe it has just ebbed upwards a bit. But still, the mind boggles. Imagine what President Paul’s cabinet meetings would be like – you’d have a peacenik Secretary of Defense arguing with a conservative Secretary of the Treasury about whether the US should withdraw from the war on drugs.

There are reasons Ron Paul’s "army" should not get too excited about the Gallup results, however. For one thing, their man is not the only candidate who’s running strongly against Obama at the moment.

Among registered voters, Mitt Romney actually leads the incumbent, 48 to 46 percent. Rick Perry and Obama are tied at 47 percent each.

These results indicate that the polling is more about Obama’s electoral weakness than Paul’s (or Romney’s, or Perry’s) electoral strength.

“Gallup research shows that these types of election measures at this stage in the campaign are not highly stable, and one can expect changes in the relative positioning of Obama and various GOP candidates in the months ahead,” writes Gallup presidential polling expert Frank Newport.

Plus, to get to a head-to-head match, Paul would have to win the Republican nomination, and the Gallup poll hints that his support among GOP voters isn’t at Romney levels.

The Gallup results show that 82 percent of self-identified Republicans say they’d vote for Paul, if a Paul-Obama election were held today, for instance. Yet 91 percent of GOP voters say they’d vote for Romney over Obama. Rick Perry gets the support of 92 percent of his party’s electorate.

Meanwhile, Washington’s Republican establishment continues to look longingly at candidates who aren’t in the race. The keening has become so loud that Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin, House Budget Committee chairman, on Monday felt it necessary to say yet again that he’s not running.

This has thrown the pro-Ryan crowd into despair, apparently.

“If I had more dramatic flair, I’d announce that I’ll be in seclusion for a while, grimly pondering the Republican future while re-reading the great Yeats poem, ‘To a Friend whose Work has Come to Nothing,’ ” wrote William Kristol, Weekly Standard editor and former Dan Quayle aide, on Monday.

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