Holy Iowa! The Mitt Has Hit the Fan!

For the night owls among you, the Des Moines Register has released its latest Iowa caucus poll and it is good news for Newt – and bad news for Romney.  Given the late hour, I’ll give you the highlights now and present a more detailed analysis tomorrow (actually, later today!)  As of now, the survey shows Gingrich in the lead with 25% of likely Republican voters.  Here’s the kicker: Ron Paul is in a virtual tie with Romney – Paul is second at 18%, with Romney in third with 16%. Note: this poll was taken before Cain announced he was suspending his campaign.  (The poll consists of 401 likely caucus participants and has a margin of error of just under 5%.) . Bachmann and Cain are at 8%, Perry and Santorum at 6%, and Huntsman, who is not campaigning in Iowa, trails the field with 2%.

It’s hard to exaggerate just how good this poll is for Gingrich.  First, consider that he has gained 18% since the last Register poll conducted Oct. 23-26.  In that poll, Cain led the field with 23%.  Romney was in a virtual tie at 22%. Gingrich was in single digits at 8%. This latest poll suggests that much of Cain’s support has migrated to Gingrich.  With Cain’s decision today to suspend his campaign, I expect Gingrich will gain additional support.

Second, most respondents choose Gingrich as their second choice. All told, 43% of those polled list Gingrich as either their first or second choice. This means that Gingrich is likely to take most of Cain’s remaining support (and who will Cain endorse?) and  if other candidates falter, Gingrich is most likely to benefit.

Third, Romney has lost 6% in Iowa just at the moment he has decided to go all in. His first television ad just went up, and a campaign spokesperson acknowledged that Mitt was in the Iowa race to win before walking back that statement a bit later in order to play the expectations game.  But make no mistake about it – if Romney finishes behind Gingrich AND Paul, it will raise serious questions regarding his candidacy – and about the judgment of the Republican establishment and the punditocracy that swears Gingrich’s support will not hold.

Keep in mind, however, that a lot can happen in 30 days.  Eleven percent of those polled say they are uncommitted, and 60% indicate they are willing to change their mind.  I expect Mitt and the other Republicans to bring out the heavy artillery against Newt in the next month.  The next two Republican debates will also be crucial.  But for now, if I’m Mitt, I am very worried.

I’ll have a more detailed analysis tomorrow…. .

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