Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul (R-Texas) is gaining steam in his race for the GOP nomination, up to his highest level yet — 15 percent — in the new Washington Post-ABC News national poll. He trails President Obama by a mere five points among registered voters in a possible general election matchup. But should Paul fall short of winning his party’s nod and opt to run as a third-party candidate, the survey finds he could seriously shake up the 2012 political calculus, largely to Obama’s benefit.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney ties Obama at 47 percent among registered voters in the poll, but fully 21 percent of all voters say they’d pick Paul as an independent candidate over either Romney or the president. Obama would win such a three-way match-up by 10 percentage points. The potential damage is less obvious for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who trails Obama by eight points in a two-way contest and 11 points with Paul in the mix.