Congressman Ron Paul may be a long shot to win the Republican presidential nomination, but he runs competitively with President Obama right now.The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of Likely Voters shows Paul picking up 37% of the vote, while the president earns 41%. The Texas congressman joins Mitt Romney, Michelle Bachmann, and Rick Perry as candidates within hailing distance of the president at this time.Rudy Giuliani is another potential candidate who is considered a long shot for the nomination but is competitive with the president. The former mayor of New York City trails Obama by five, 44% to 39%.But the real story in the numbers is that the president continues to earn between 41% and 49% of the vote no matter which Republican is mentioned as a potential opponent. This suggests that the race remains a referendum on the incumbent more than anything else.Obama posts a 12-point lead over former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, 44% to 32%.Two Republicans can’t even get to 30% against the president. Businessman Herman Cain and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, who served as Obama’s ambassador to China, each earn 28% support. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, considered unlikely to run by most observers, trail the president by seven and nine points respectively. Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum trails by 14.ObamaIn reviewing the data, please note that Romney benefits from being perceived as the frontrunner. In 2004, the last time an incumbent president stood for reelection, Vermont Governor Howard Dean was the early Democratic frontrunner, and he polled best against George W. Bush.Massachusetts Senator John Kerry was always a few points behind. However, once Kerry became the frontrunner in early 2008, his numbers became as good as Dean’s.Polls conducted a year-and-a-half before an election provide a snapshot of where things are today but give little indication of what the mood might be on Election Day. If the economy substantially improves before November 2012, the president will be heavily favored to win reelection. If the opposite happens and the country endures a double-dip recession, just about any Republican challenger would be favored. If the economy stays as it is today, the race could be very competitive.A good measure of the president’s reelection prospects is his Job Approval rating among likely voters. His final vote total is likely to be very close to his final Job Approval figures.Romney leads the polls for the GOP nomination among Republican primary voters. However, it is far too early for the polls to give a sense of who is likely to emerge as the Republican nominee. In 2008, John McCain never took the lead in a national primary poll until December 31, 2007.
SOURCES: RAMUSSEN REPORTS
Election 2012: Romney 43% Obama 42%