The reason why Mitt Romney can afford to look cavalier about competing in the Iowa caucuses is because he's had a commanding lead in polling in the first early voting state, New Hampshire--until today, that is, when a new poll showed that back-from-the-dead Newt Gingrich is virtually tied with him.

The latest heat-check from the NH Journal finds that if "the election were held today" Romney would snag 29 percent of the vote and Gingrich would net a within the margin-of-error 27 percent. That looks like the definition of a shock poll. To put those numbers in perspective, Real Clear Politics aggregation of all New Hampshire polls has shown the former Massachusetts governor with a average lead of 23 points over his closest opponent--which had been Ron Paul until this morning (the libertarian is in third place in the NH Journal poll with 16 percent). 

What prompted the shift? NH Journal points to 44 percent of respondents saying that they liked Newt Gingrich's "depth of knowledge on the issues" and that "self-identified conservative voters" were more likely to pick him than Romney. In any case, the news that the race in New Hampshire may be tightening is troubling for Mitt--it forces him to put more pressure on competing in Iowa, a state that is basically a toss-up in polling right now and that could doom his campaign if he tries too hard and fails.