CNN poll: Gingrich 24, Romney 20, Cain 17, Perry 11

No surprise in the topline numbers but lots of little surprises in the details. For instance, after dropping from 25 percent last month to 14 percent last week, Cain’s actually bounced back to 17 percent. A few voters might be giving him the benefit of the doubt now that no more women have come forward to accuse him of harassment. Another surprise: From mid-October to mid-November, the number of voters who said they’d definitely support one candidate versus those who might change their minds stood perfectly even at 31/61. This week, however, the spread jumped to 27/67. Proof, perhaps, that Gingrich really is starting to soften up other candidates’ support? Perry’s numbers have now declined for five straight polls and, at 20 percent, this is Romney’s poorest showing since September, so … maybe, yeah.

The two most fascinating Newt numbers? Behold:

He’s now the tea-party favorite with a double-digit lead over his closest competitor, Cain. Being the momentarily anointed Not Romney will do that for you, I guess, even if you’ve spent decades as a Beltway insider. (Note that Perry, who embraced the tea-party movement early on, is now fifth in this demographic.) And he’s a runaway winner in the 65 and over group, which bodes well for the general election if he’s the nominee but which I’m at a loss to fully explain. Is it simply that he’s the only candidate up there (besides Paul) who belongs to that age group? Is it gratitude for his coolness to Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan early on? Is it the unusual amount of time he’s spent on the trail talking about Alzheimer’s research? Worth keeping an eye on this number going forward as it could matter a lot in explaining any Newt upsets in the primaries.

Gingrich is also the candidate whom voters are most enthusiastic about, even though he’s a distant fourth in likability. How to explain that disparity? Could be this:

So deep are doubts about Perry that he now trails even Cain in this category despite the latter’s unending gaffe parade.

Here’s the number that probably decides the nomination, though:

That’s a nice bounce for Gingrich, but if those numbers hold — and there’s reason to think they will as the media starts to revisit his baggage — a lot of Republican undecideds in Iowa (yes, Iowa!) who desperately want to beat Obama will bite the bullet on Mitt. Exit quotation: “The others may not quite be toast. But they’re certainly in the toaster, the dial is turned up to nine, and there is smoke coming out.”