NBC Poll Shows Drama in Iowa: Romney, Paul Near Tie First, Gingrich Drops to Fifth

A new NBC Poll shows the growing political drama shaping up in Iowa in the race for the 2012 Republican Presidential nomination. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Rep. Ron Paul are in a near tie — and once-politically-hot former House Newt Gingrich is dropping so fast that you could swear he had been talking about a “nahn nahn nahn” plan.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Rep. Ron Paul are running neck-and-neck in Iowa, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is surging and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich collapsing just four days before the state’s Jan. 3 caucuses, according to a new NBC News-Marist poll.

Romney drew the support of 23 percent of likely caucus-goers in Iowa – identified based on interest, chance of voting and past participation – ahead of Paul, at 21 percent.

They are followed by Santorum at 15 percent, Texas Gov. Rick Perry at 14 percent, Gingrich at 13 percent and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann at 6 percent.

That’s an almost shocking political disintegration for Gingrich.

Many will attribute it to Romney having patiently saved his big bucks to use at the end — and using it and independent political groups against Gingrich.

But the realities are a)Gingrich has never done well when voters really got to watch him if he was dominating the news b) it isn’t that Gingrich’s baggage has baggage but his baggage that has baggage has baggage c) although he has been a bomb thrower he has in fact been willing to reach across the aisle and been moderate on some issues.

And to many in today’s GOP, moderate is a filthy word.

The poll numbers, which are similar to those published in a recent CNN/Time survey, represent a reversal of fortune for Gingrich, as well as an improvement for Santorum and (to a lesser extent) Perry. The NBC-Marist poll conducted in late November had Gingrich in the lead among likely caucus-goers at 28 percent, Romney and Paul tied at 19 percent, Perry at 10 percent, Bachmann at 7 percent and Santorum at 6 percent.

“More than half of [Gingrich’s] support has evaporated,” said Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, which conducted the survey.

The survey also found two factors working in Romney’s favor:

Although just 7 percent of likely Iowa caucus-goers believe that Romney is the true conservative in the GOP field, he has two variables working in his favor, according to the poll. One, only 21 percent of likely caucus-goers say he’s unacceptable as the Republican nominee (compared with 35 percent for Gingrich and 41 percent for Paul).
And two, the conservative vote appears to be splintering between the various candidates, and is no longer coalescing around a single Romney challenger.

if Romney wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, he’ll be hard to stop. At that point you’ll start to see talk show hosts and the rest of the Republican punditry and newsinfo establishment begin to close ranks behind him.