Iowa and the new Republican reality: Gingrich surges into the lead, Paul rises to second, Romney stumbles down to third
Despite their undeniable significance, I don't want to make too much of the Iowa caucuses, let alone of a single poll still a month out from the vote, but what appears to be going on there reflects what's happening nationally.
As Jed Lewison reports at Kos, a new Des Moines Register poll shows Gingrich in the lead at 25 percent, with Paul in second at 18 percent and Romney in third at 16 percent, with Bachmann (8), Cain (8, but he's now out), Perry (6), Santorum (6), and Huntsman (2) well back.
Looking at polls going back to June, the trends are clear:
-- Gingrich is surging, up from just 7 percent in late October.
-- Paul has also improved, jumping up from 12 percent in late October. (Both he and Newt were at 7 percent in June.)
-- Romney has been steadily declining: 23 to 22 to 18 to 16 over the four polls.
As Lewison writes, "he's not only run into a polling ceiling, he's starting to lose ground... and he's losing it just as he's gearing up to try to win the state." I've been saying for a long time now that Romney has a low support ceiling. It may be getting lower, particularly with Gingrich emerging and Paul picking up steam. Romney could rise again if Gingrich falters (and if Newt self-destructs either by being himself or because people start paying attention and see him for what he is (and has been throughout his political career), but with so little time before Iowa and New Hampshire, that may not happen until it's too late, if ever.
-- The rest of them are done. In particular, Perry's hopes of a comeback. It's over.
I don't consider Paul a serious contender despite the intensity of the support for him. (For an example of that, see this piece I wrote for The Huffington Post on Friday. It looks at the ad Paul is running against Newt, but it's really about Gingrich as the frontrunner and the current state of the GOP race. But I included a throwaway line about how Paul will never be the nominee and that was enough to arouse the ire of Paul's fanatics. Check out the comments, including my responses.)
As we're seeing in Iowa and elsewhere, the race has turned into Gingrich vs. Romney. Given his low ceiling, Romney was depending on the anti-Romney conservative vote being split among a number of candidates -- that is, on no one rival emerging to unify the conservative vote. It looked bad for him when Perry surged into the lead after the Iowa Straw Poll over the summer, but that didn't last long, not with Perry doing so badly in the debates and generally embarrassing himself. It was fine when it was Cain as his main rival, because Cain wasn't really a serious contender.
But now, with Gingrich? It doesn't look good, and Gingrich, unlike Perry, seems to have what it takes to stay on top (assuming he keeps Bad Newt -- that is, the real Newt -- in check), at least long enough to win Iowa, place a strong second in New Hampshire, and then win South Carolina, building up his ground campaigns and securing the necessary support, both financial and otherwise, to pick up even more steam from there.