The recent sustained rise to the front of the pack by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich seems to be more than just the previous flavors of the month syndrome that we have seen, and even if it is, if you were going to pick a month to be the favorite flavor in, this is it. It is the month leading in to the first primaries and caucuses and if you have the wind at your back going in to them, there is a darn good chance you will have a stronger wind in your sails coming out of them. So in that sense Newt Gingrich is well positioned and if he can win in Iowa, the Live Free or Die State of New Hampshire becomes a do or die proposition for Mitt Romney.
On the other hand, if Mitt Romney wins Iowa, particularly by a good 5 or more percent, there is a good chance that he will wrap up the nomination early.
But polls indicate that at this point in time, that scenario is quite unlikely.
Mitt’s numbers are down compared to Newt Gingrich who is currently besting him in Iowa, South Carolina, and Florida, and catching up on him in New Hampshire. This all spells deep trouble for Romney. As outlined in a previous White House 2012 post, if Mitt fails to lock up the nomination early, he may be in for a long battle that could go in to April or beyond. The best and most troubling evidence of that for Mitt exists in recent poll numbers out of Michigan.
Several polls now show Newt Gingrich beating Romney in the Great Lakes State, a relatively delegate rich state that Romney is a native son of, and whose name is greatly respected because of George Romney, Michigan’s former, popular three term governor and Mitt’s father. In 2008, Romney handily defeated John McCain in Michigan and by all accounts, he should be handily beating all his 2012 opponents in Michigan. But such is not the case. A recent Strategic National poll produced the following results:
- Newt Gingrich 30.75%
- Mitt Romney 28.74%
- Ron Paul 7.47%
- Michele Bachmann 6.32%
- Jon Huntsman 4.02%
- Rick Santorum 3.16%
- Rick Perry 2.59%
- Undecided 16.95
Those numbers may be close but it is what is behind them that is most important.
Almost a year ago in January, of this year, Newt Gingrich polled 10.2% in the same poll, while Mitt Romney garnered 24.4% of the support. In less than 11 months, Newt has seen his numbers go up by more almost 21 percent. Whereas Mitt Romney has seen a rise of only 4.34 percent. That shows that Newt is the candidate with the greatest momentum in Michigan and to whom the undecided vote is breaking for. And for Romney, the Michigan numbers simply confirm what we already know……he has a ceiling of support that levels off in the high 20’s.
All of this is bad news for Mitt and it makes it more imperative for him to now to try to win in Iowa.
If Romney can pull off a victory in Iowa, it will go a long way in taking away any momentum that his challengers may have. And if Romney can’t win in Iowa, he must do everything he can to make sure that Newt Gingrich doesn’t win it either. The last thing Mitt can afford is to allow Newt to increase the force of his existing momentum and begin consolidating undecided voters behind him in numbers to great for Mitt to keep pace with. If that happens, Newt can effectively derail Romney in either New Hampshire, South Carolina, or Florida . So if Romney can’t win in Iowa, he better hope that either Ron Paul, Michele Bachmann or Rick Santorum do.
For Mitt, short of winning Iowa for himself, the ideal winner would be Rick Santorum.
A come from behind win in Iowa by Santorum, will help to insure that the social conservatives remains divided in the primaries immediately following Iowa. That kind of continued division would dilute the social conservative vote just enough to make it possible for Romney’s upper 20 percent threshold to be a winning majority.
All of this makes this Thursday’s Fox News debate in Sioux City, Iowa all the more important. In that debate Romney can ill afford another $10,000 bet and at the same time, he has to hope that Newt is off his game and that Rick Santorum pulls off his strongest performance yet.
The next debate will be held at the Sioux City Convention Center on Thursday, December 15thfrom 9:00-11:00 PM/ET. It will be sponsored by Fox News in conjunction with the Iowa Republican Party.
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