Gallup is out with a new poll showing four of the Republican candidates for president beating or within striking distance of Barack Obama among registered voters. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has the greatest advantage, beating Obama 48 percent to 46 percent.

The poll, taken on August 17 and 18, shows Texas governor Rick Perry tied with Obama, Texas congressman Ron Paul two points behind Obama, and Minnesota congressman Michele Bachmann four points behind Obama. Gallup provides some context:

President Obama's job approval rating is hovering around the 40% mark. This is below the rating that any of the six incumbent presidents re-elected since Eisenhower has had at the time of the presidential election. However, in August of the year before they were re-elected, Ronald Reagan (43%) and Bill Clinton (46%) were both below 50%. Obama's position of rough parity against leading GOP candidates shows that more Americans at the moment say they would vote for Obama than approve of the job he is doing -- perhaps a reflection of the continuing lack of a strong front-runner on the Republican side.

With the first official votes for the Republican nomination more than five months away, and with the very real possibility that GOP candidates such as Sarah Palin, Rudy Giuliani, and George Pataki may jump into the race, much could still change as the election process unfolds.

The fact that more polarizing figures like Bachmann and Paul, in addition to the more conservative Perry, are polling so closely to Obama reflects that perhaps Romney's most salient argument to GOP primary voters--that he is the most electable alternative to Barack Obama--may not be as viable as it once was. Today's poll suggests that almost any Republican could beat Obama.

Any Republican, that is, except perhaps Sarah Palin. The former Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential nominee, who may or may not be entering the race soon, polls a good 17 points behind Obama in a new Rasmussen poll.

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