The dynamic of the GOP presidential race has shifted again with conservative voters throwing their support behind former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and time running out for those hoping to mount a challenge.
Newsmax/InsiderAdvantage polls of Iowa and New Hampshire voters conducted Nov. 28 showed Gingrich in the lead in Iowa with 28 percent, followed by Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, at 13 percent and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in third place at 12 percent. In New Hampshire, Romney leads Gingrich 31 to 27 percent.
An InsiderAdvantage poll conducted in South Carolina for the Augusta Chronicle showed Gingrich besting Romney by 23 points, 38 to 15 percent.
“This has gone from being an anyone but Romney race to a Gingrich versus someone race,” InsiderAdvantage head Matt Towery tells Newsmax.
Towery, a former Gingrich aide and now an independent pollster, said he expected Romney to hold New Hampshire but said polling is showing a “mass exodus of independents from Romney.” He said the independents are mostly tea party members of the GOP and they are moving very rapidly toward Gingrich.
Gingrich is also picking up the voters who are abandoning businessman Herman Cain, who has been hit with various charges of sexual impropriety. Evangelicals in South Carolina, Iowa and Florida are also breaking for him.
Towery said that with the Iowa caucus set for Jan. 3, the New Hampshire primary Jan. 10 and South Carolina Jan. 21, time is running out on bids to alter the dynamic as the Christmas season will overwhelm any campaign strategies.
“There is very little in December that can change the momentum of the race,” he said, adding, “The headline is not who will take on Mitt but who will take on Newt.”
Towery attributes the shift in the race to the fact that Romney’s campaign has been hit from a variety of directions of late, from Democrats who would prefer President Barack Obama to run against Gingrich to Republicans who view Romney as not conservative enough.
Other experts and pundits point to the fact that Gingrich is a known quantity to GOP primary voters. He has an established history and national politcal career dating back to the early 90s -- voters generally know what they are getting with him, warts and all.
"There are two things about Gingrich that are certain. One, that he has an almost unique ability to draw clear distinctions between competing ideas and reduce them down to a series of choices with which one may either agree or disagree," Peter Roff, a contributing editor for U.S. News & World Report, wrote Tuesday.
"The other is that he still drives the liberals crazy—although their outrage seems to be somewhat contrived these compared to what it was back in his earliest years in Congress when, as a backbencher and leader of the Conservative Opportunity Society, he set the GOP on its forward march to majority by nearly single-handedly taking down Democratic Speaker Jim Wright of Texas over his questionable ethics."
Among other GOP candidates, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., is in fourth place in Iowa at 10 percent, followed by Cain, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, all polling in the single digits.
In New Hampshire, Paul is in third place with 15 percent, followed by Cain, Perry, Bachmann, and Santorum, all in the single digits. In South Carolina, Cain is in third place with 13 percent followed by Paul, Perry, Bachmann and Santorum, who poll in the single digits.
Other polls show a slightly larger lead for Romney in New Hampshire, but most tend to agree that the wind is at Gingrich's back. He has narrowed the lead in New Hampshire and other states considerably.
A Rasmussen poll released Tuesday showed 34 percent support for Romney and 24 percent for Gingrich.
The previous Rasmussen survey, taken on October 25, had Romney with 41 percent support - 23 points ahead of Herman Cain, his closest challenger at the time. Gingrich was in fourth place in October, with 11 percent support.
Cain, a former pizza company executive hit by allegations of sexual harassment and an alleged 13-year extramarital affair, fell to 5 percent in the latest Rasmussen survey.
Monday's poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The Union Leader, a conservative paper, praised Gingrich on Sunday for "innovative, forward-looking strategy and positive leadership."
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