GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney’s decision to campaign negatively in Iowa appears to have backfired, with a new Newsmax-InsiderAdvantage poll showing the former Massachusetts governor plummeting to fourth place in the Hawkeye State -- a swift decline that pollster Matt Towery describes as “imploding.”
Romney’s lead in New Hampshire is evaporating as well, Towery adds.
The InsiderAdvantage survey of 517 registered likely Iowa caucus-goers shows former House Speaker Newt Gingrich the leading choice of 27 percent of Iowa Republicans. He is followed by Texas Rep. Ron Paul at 17 percent, Texas Gov. Rick Perry at 13 percent, Romney at 12 percent, and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann at 10 percent.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman have 7 percent and 4 percent respectively.
For Romney, the results are a stark contrast from earlier this month, when several polls showed him grabbing 20 percent of the vote in Iowa. At that point, pundits speculated it was even possible Romney could win Iowa outright.
Now, just a few weeks later, Towery says Romney is imploding.
“He’s imploding in the sense that somebody had to take all the Herman Cain vote, and then you had a large undecided vote. Throughout that entire time period, Romney has not moved a single point, and he’s moved from being in second place to being in fourth place,” says Towery. “So clearly whatever he’s been doing in Iowa is not working.”
Towery attributes Romney’s decline to his violation of one of the cardinal rules of Iowa politics: To always campaign on a positive rather than a negative basis.
In the past week Romney has unleashed surrogates to brand former Gingrich as a “faux conservative,” in the words of former New Hampshire Gov. John H. Sununu. Romney challenged Gingrich to return the $1.6 million he received while consulting troubled mortgage lender Freddie Mac. Romney also has been criticized for offering to make a $10,000 bet with Perry at the latest GOP debate.
Towery said Romney not only has attacked Gingrich, but has done so openly, attaching his name to the various charges that he’s leveled.
“That does not fly in Iowa,” Towery declared. “…In my judgment, they just took the wrong approach.”
Towery said that Romney would have been better off playing it conservative in Iowa, accepting a loss, and then moving on to continue the battle in New Hampshire.
“I think it’s one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen a campaign do, when they had so much good will in terms of how people felt about the candidate himself,” Towery said. “I mean, they may think he’s a moderate or a flip-flopper or whatever, but I don’t think anybody has ever accused Mitt Romney of being a bad guy.
“And now he’s turned himself into a bad guy in Iowa, a state where you can’t get away with it, because everybody talks to everybody,” he said.
Perhaps even more ominous for Romney, however, is the poll’s indication that Romney’s problems may have spread beyond Iowa.
“Because he’s having trouble in Iowa now, it’s spilling over to New Hampshire,” Towery said. “And while he still has a lead in New Hampshire, it’s not a compelling lead. And at one point it was an overwhelming lead.”
An NBC/Marist Poll conducted at the end of November showed Romney with a decisive double-digit lead over Gingrich, 39 percent to 23 percent. But the Newsmax-InsiderAdvantage poll of 521 likely GOP primary voters in New Hampshire shows Gingrich rapidly narrowing the gap.
Romney continues to lead with 29 percent of the vote in New Hampshire. Gingrich is second at 24 percent, and Paul is surging into a close third place with 21 percent of the vote. Huntsman, who in some ways has pursued a one-state strategy, is the only other candidate in double figures, with 11 percent. Following Huntsman are Bachmann with 4 percent, Santorum with 2 percent, and Perry with 1 percent.
Both the Iowa poll and the survey in New Hampshire have a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent, according to Towery. He added that Paul is a serious factor in both states, and other candidates ignoring him do so at their peril.
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