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After a brilliant debate performance by Newt Gingrich on Monday, some wondered whether it was too late in the cycle for a second bounce. According to a Rasmussen poll taken yesterday of 1,000 likely GOP primary voters, Mitt Romney’s team may want to keep the party favors in the box for a little while longer:
The race for the Republican presidential nomination is now nearly even with Mitt Romney still on top but Newt Gingrich just three points apart.
The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of Likely Republican Primary Voters nationwide shows Romney with 30% support and Gingrich with 27% of the vote. Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, who was running second two weeks ago, has now dropped to 15%.
Texas Congressman Ron Paul captures 13% support from likely primary voters, and Texas Governor Rick Perry remains in last place with four percent (4%). Another four percent (4%) like some other candidate in the race, and seven percent (7%) are undecided. (To see survey question wording, click here.)
But the story in the new numbers, taken Tuesday night, is Gingrich’s jump 11 points from 16% two weeks ago. Romney’s support is essentially unchanged from 29% at that time, while Santorum is down six points from 21%. Paul’s and Perry’s support is also unchanged. Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman earned four percent (4%) of the vote at the start of the month but dropped out of the race this week. This suggests that many voters are still looking for an alternative to Romney and currently see Gingrich as that candidate.
Bear in mind that Rasmussen polled South Carolina the day before and found Romney in the lead by 14 points. That’s a big margin to overcome in a short period of time, but that is what debates can do for candidates, thanks to their immediate reach.
Gingrich still has issues in the internals. Romney edges him among Republicans (31/28) and non-Republicans (27/25), the latter of whom comprise 28% of the overall sample. Gingrich has a three-point lead among men but an 11-point deficit among women. He also has a lower favorability rating than Romney (58/38 and 68/29, respectively), which means that undecideds are a little more likely to drift to Romney than to Gingrich. Also, Romney leads bt 14 points on the question of which would be stronger against Obama (13 points among Republicans and 16 points among non-Republicans), and 70% expect Romney to win the nomination anyway.
Still, the bounce upward indicates momentum for Gingrich, who squandered it in Iowa in December. Romney hasn’t actually lost any momentum, either. At whose expense has this momentum swung toward Gingrich? It looks like Rick Santorum, while still polling respectably in the mid-teens, has begun dropping off the pace. If the race comes down to Romney and a Romney alternative, at the moment the latter would be Gingrich — which is interesting, because Santorum has at least arguably tied for the win in one state, something Gingrich hasn’t even come close to doing as of yet.
Gingrich had better hope that this momentum is for real, and that it reaches the Palmetto State. Coming in second in South Carolina won’t work, as Hugh Hewitt explains in his post titled “Elect Me Because The Guy I Can’t Beat Can’t Beat Obama”:
Trying to brand Romney a “moderate” is a fine campaign tactic that most voters just shrug off as noise, but they do hear the “and the odds are fairly high that he will lose to Obama,” which doesn’t hurt Romney but Gingrich himself, just as did the attacks on Bain. Ginrich has risen when he has attacked Obama or the MSM or the sacred cows of media elites. He falls when he lashes out at his competition or at the prospects of the party in the fall.
That’s because it’s a process argument, not a policy argument, and Gingrich hasn’t ever won a statewide election in this cycle or any other, let alone a national election for himself. That doesn’t make Gingrich’s point false, but it doesn’t exactly give him the standing to make it, either. If he wins South Carolina, this argument might work better for him in Florida.