The Newt Gingrich surge continues apace in two national polls released this afternoon.  Democratic pollster PPP shows Gingrich ahead of Herman Cain by three points and Mitt Romney by seven, a gain of 13 points for the former Speaker in a month:

Newt Gingrich has taken the lead in PPP’s national polling.  He’s at 28% to 25% for Herman Cain and 18% for Mitt Romney.  The rest of the Republican field is increasingly looking like a bunch of also rans: Rick Perry is at 6%, Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul at 5%, Jon Huntsman at 3%, and Gary Johnson and Rick Santorum each at 1%.

Compared to a month ago Gingrich is up 13 points, while Cain has dropped by 5 points and Romney has gone down by 4.  Although a fair amount of skepticism remains about the recent allegations against Cain there is no doubt they are taking a toll on his image- his net favorability is down 25 points over the last month from +51 (66/15) to only +26 (57/31). What is perhaps a little more surprising is that Romney’s favorability is at a 6 month low in our polling too with only 48% of voters seeing him favorably to 39% with a negative opinion.

Gingrich’s lead caps an amazing comeback he’s made over the last 5 months.  In June his favorability nationally with Republican voters plummeted all the way to 36/49. Now he’s at 68/23, representing a 58 point improvement in his spread since then. As recently as August Gingrich was mired in single digits at 7%, and even in September he was at just 10%.  He’s climbed 18 points in less than 2 months.

There’s reason to think that if Cain continues to fade, Gingrich will continue to gain.  Among Cain’s supporters 73% have a favorable opinion of Gingrich to only 21% with a negative one. That compares to a 33/55 spread for Romney with Cain voters and a 32/53 one for Perry.  They like Gingrich a whole lot more than they do the other serious candidates in the race.

In the PPP poll, no one else even comes close.  Fourth place goes to Rick Perry with just 6%, one point ahead of Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann.  Gingrich’s favorability has shot upward dramatically, with a 68/23 favorable rating.  That increases to 81/14 among self-described Tea Party voters, while dipping into negative territory among liberals and moderates.  Right now Gingrich gets better ratings among women (67/21) than Michele Bachmann (42/36), Herman Cain (52/33), and Mitt Romney (49/36).   He also earns 60%+ in every age category, beating Romney in every age demo.

CNN’s poll released today shows a different result, but with Gingrich still surging into a virtual tie with Romney:

A new national survey of Republicans indicates that it’s basically all tied up between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich in the race for the GOP presidential nomination, with Gingrich on the rise and businessman Herman Cain falling due to the sexual harassment allegations he’s been facing the past two weeks.

According to a CNN/ORC International Poll released Monday, 24% of Republicans and independents who lean towards the GOP say Romney is their most likely choice for their party’s presidential nominee with Gingrich at 22%. Romney’s two-point advantage is well within the survey’s sampling error.

Interestingly, the sample sizes are almost identical in both polls, as was the polling period.   Only Romney has a positive favorability rating in the CNN poll among all voters and not just Republicans (39/35), but Newt comes in second at 36/39.   That’s an improvement on Gingrich’s numbers since officially kicking off his campaign.    Among Republicans only, Gingrich comes in first at 61/21, with Romney dropping back to 55/27 — similar, if not exactly equal, to PPP’s results.

The CNN poll pits the GOP candidates head to head against Obama in their larger sample of registered voters.  This comes up favoring Romney, who beats Obama among RVs 51/47.  Gingrich comes up significantly short at 53/45, as does Herman Cain at 53/43, but the poll doesn’t disclose the D/R/I of the overall sample, either.  Considering that out of 925 registered voters only 480 were Republicans and GOP-leaning independents, I’d guess that the sample might tend to skew a little to the Democrats.

It looks like Gingrich has his opening.  Can he take advantage of it?  We’ll see now that the other candidates have an incentive to go after him — but Gingrich has played very graciously with everyone else in this race, and going negative on Newt might have a high risk of backfire.