WASHINGTON — Eighteen years after he led Republicans to an unexpected takeover of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich looks increasingly poised to engineer yet another improbable election win.
The former House Speaker, whose presidential campaign was left for dead a few months ago amidst heavy debt and a staff exodus, sits atop the new Des Moines Register poll, at 25 percent. In the last Register poll — released in late October — he was at seven percent.
The poll was conducted Nov. 27-30 among 401 likely Republican caucus-goers, and has a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points.
Gingrich is trailed by Rep. Ron Paul at 18 percent and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, with 16 percent. Businessman Herman Cain, who earlier in the day announced that he was suspending his beleaguered presidential campaign in response to allegations of an extramarital affair and past charges of sexual harassment, was favored by eight percent of voters, down from 22 percent in the Register‘s last survey.
The decline is likely music to Gingrich’s ears. Several recent national polls have shown Gingrich potentially gaining the most ground among Cain supporters in the event the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO dropped out of the race. According to the Register: “More respondents choose Gingrich as their second choice than any other candidate. Together, 43 percent of likely caucusgoers pick him as first or second.”
With just weeks until Iowans gather to vote, the race for the Hawkeye State has boiled down to three candidates, none of whom, really, have devoted much time or energy to the primary battleground.
Paul maintains a devoted following, but has been primarily a national candidate rather than running an Iowa-centric campaign. Romney has campaigned tepidly in Iowa — wary of being dealt a setback like the one he suffered when he finished second there in 2008. In the Register poll released in late October, he stood at 22 percent. On Saturday, however, Romney received the backing of the Sioux City Journal, a fairly powerful editorial board inside the state. That endorsement came after the field period for the new survey had ended.
Gingrich, meanwhile, just recently opened his first office in the Hawkeye State — his campaign debt having eliminated any chance for an earlier investment. And yet, Saturday night’s poll is only one of several recent surveys to show him on the rise.
The candidates who have spent the most time in Iowa, ironically, have remained stagnant in the polls. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) earned eight percent support in Saturday night’s Register poll; former Sen. Rick Santorum received the backing of six percent; while Texas Gov. Rick Perry clocks in at six percent.
The Des Moines Register‘s Iowa survey is the nation’s longest continuously running newspaper poll, beginning in the 1980s. As the Huffington Post’s Mark Blumenthal noted in late October:
The Register and its current pollster Ann Selzer gained further acclaim four years ago when their final pre-caucus survey was the only public poll to show Barack Obama with a wide lead over Hillary Clinton and John Edwards. It was also the only poll to accurately forecast the “dramatic influx” of first-time caucus-goers that helped propel Obama to his eventual Iowa victory.
Because of the very low turnout of eligible adults to the Iowa Caucuses, however, all past polling of likely caucus-goers has been notoriously volatile. Although the Register poll accurately forecast Obama’s win four years ago, its October poll conducted just three months earlier showed Obama running in third place, seven percentage points behind Clinton. Thus, with more than 10 weeks still remaining before the 2012 caucus, caution is in order.