The Drudge Report headline concerning this encouraging Rasmussen poll reads “SHOCK POLL: 2012 Presidential Election Match-Up.”

Writes The American Conservative’s Daniel McCarthy:

“A Rasmussen survey of likely voters finds Ron Paul polling within a single point of Obama, 41 percent to the president’s 42 percent, in a 2012 match-up. The pollster notes that Paul does somewhat better among independents than Republicans: “Perhaps tellingly, just 42% of Republican voters have a favorable view of him, including eight percent (8%) with a very favorable opinion. By comparison, 42% of unaffiliated voters regard him favorably, with 15% very favorable toward him.”

During the 2008 campaign season, few polls gauged how Paul would have performed against Clinton or Obama. Considering that Paul represented a very different flavor of candidate than any of the other Republicans, it was a significant omission. Plenty of tests were run pitting Republican moderates (such as Giuliani) or hawkish conservatives (just about everybody else) against the Democrats, but how would a noninterventionist libertarian perform? Quite well, it turns out, if Rasmussen is to be believed. The numbers even look to me as if the GOP itself is warming to Paul — clearly there’s still a quarter to a third of the party that rigidly rejects what he stands for, but most Republicans are simply unfamiliar with him, and a slightly larger percentage than those opposed to him see Paul as a new direction for the party:

Twenty-six percent (26%) of GOP voters think Paul shares the values of most Republican voters throughout the nation, but 25% disagree. Forty-nine percent (49%) are not sure.

Similarly, 27% of Republicans see Paul as a divisive force in the party, while 30% view him as a new direction for the GOP. Forty-two percent (42%) aren’t sure.

Among all voters, 19% say Paul shares the values of most Republican voters, and 27% disagree. Fifty-four percent (54%) are undecided.

Twenty-one percent (21%) of voters nationwide regard Paul as a divisive force in the GOP. Thirty-four percent (34%) say he is representative of a new direction for the party. Forty-five percent (45%) are not sure.

Between this and his second-place finish — a single vote behind Romney — at the recent Southern Republican Leadership Conference, there looks to be a real and growing RP following within the GOP, and with so few Republicans even familiar with the Texas congressman, there’s room for much more growth yet.