It's a nice time to be Newt Gingrich. He is the newest Republican presidential candidate to seize the lead in polls of Iowa voters, one month before they will head to caucuses to begin the primary season in earnest. And Gingrich has shot up by 20 percentage points in polls of New Hampshire voters, new NBC News-Marist polls say.
Gingrich leads with 26 percent of voters polled in Iowa, with Romney in second place and Rep. Ron Paul running third. The rest of the field, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain, were mired in single digits.
Pollsters scrambled to adjust their findings after Cain's campaign ended on Saturday:
With Cain’s decision to suspend his campaign -- which he announced on Saturday -- a reallocation of his supporters’ second-choice picks puts Gingrich ahead of the Iowa horse race with 28 percent; Paul and Romney are tied at 19 percent; and Perry lands at 10 percent. (The NBC-Marist polls were conducted before Cain suspended his campaign.)
The most interesting questions in the Iowa poll (pdf here) may be the pollsters' efforts to determine support for the Tea Party movement. Respondents were balanced among Democrats, Republicans and independents, but it's striking that 70 percent of those polled said they "do not support the Tea Party," compared to just 20 percent who said they do. Those numbers are virtually unchanged from a poll in October.
The gap reverses among likely voters: 47 percent say they either support or strongly support the Tea Party, while 45 remain opposed. Discount the Democrats, and the difference would seem to be Romney's problem and opportunity. He's got to pull out to the caucuses more of the registered, but not likely voters who are not looking for someone leaning hard to the right, like Gingrich, Cain, or Perry. But if he can't, the activists of the Republican electorate who favor the Tea Party will be a potentially decisive factor. Bad news for Mitt, who they don't like.
The Chicago Tribune argues the Tea Party is over, and it uses the example of Gingrich as evidence. Who could better exemplify the insidery Washingtonness the Tea Party organized against than a former House speaker turned corporate consultant like Gingrich?
Gingrich is the man who has earned millions by doing precisely what the tea party rages against: advising, promoting and lobbying for big corporate and public policy interests. That includes at least $1.6 million he was paid by Freddie Mac, a government-sponsored home-lending entity that many conservatives blame for the financial crisis.
Yet, fiscal conservatives appear to be putting all that aside in the way many social conservatives are looking past his two divorces or his ethical challenges, including his historical status as the only House speaker to be disciplined for ethics violations.
What's left of the tea party insurgency appears to be willing to look past Gingrich's shortcomings in pursuit of a bigger prize, the defeat of President Barack Obama — after defeating Romney.
"The name remains," the Tribune argues, "but the spirit is fading."
But the candidates don't necessarily agree. And there is one above all, one who once soared so high on the breezes of Iowa, and now lies dormant, felled by a lack of belief in her powers. Clap if you believe, says Representative Michele Bachmann.