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An early poll shows Republican Ron Paul within one percentage vote behind Barack Obama. Do the Democrats finally have a challenger?

The results of a poll taken by the influential Rasmussen Reports showed Texas Republican Ron Paul just one point behind President Barack Obama when a thousand likely voters were asked who they’d choose between the two if elections were today. Of course, the poll assumes that these are the most likely Democrat and Republican nominees come 2012, but for the GOP, that may not be such a stretch. Last week, New Orleans hosted the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, where Ron Paul came within just one vote of Mitt Romney who won a straw poll asking Republicans who they would vote for in a presidential primary. Paul and Romney both shared 24 percent of the vote (438 and 439 votes respectively), while Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin tied for third place.

Should Obama and the Democratic party be concerned? Well, Paul didn’t carry any states in the 2008 Republican primaries, but he did grab second place in 10 states, and third place in 17, meaning he at least charts well with over half of the states. He never officially dropped out of that primary, instead he “suspended” it and continued collecting funds. He out-raised all Republican candidates in 2007’s last quarter, and had the most support of African Americans voting Republican. Many independents love him too because of his stance on decriminalizing drugs, and ending U.S. military intervention in the Middle East. Conservatives love him because he believes in lowering taxes and shrinking the government basically out of business.

Paul is also clearly against racism, saying “as collectivists, racists think only in terms of groups.” In addition, he continually stands out amongst his fellow Congressmen as an individual by voting in opposition of so many popular votes that his nickname is “Dr. No.”

Ultimately, Obama’s campaign team should probably start taking notes. Paul is gathering steam if from no other demographic than the Tea Partyers who share his disdain for taxes. Independents who voted for Obama in ’08 have been flaking on him since he’s taken office, which helps explain how Scott Brown grabbed Ted Kennedy’s Congress seat. It was new voters — notably black, Hispanic and young — who propelled Obama to office, and he won’t lose many of those votes next time around, especially with Paul’s anti-immigration stances. But Senator John McCain’s presidential run showed that the GOP is willing to run a moderate, if somewhat liberal-slash-libertarian, candidate if he or she leads back into the White House.

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