National poll: Gingrich 37, Romney 22; Iowa: Gingrich 31, Romney 17

Here’s the national poll from Gallup confirming everything you thought you knew about the race. Most of Cain’s support did indeed go to Newt, and Newt continues to crush Romney among tea partiers and seniors. Intriguing data, but not nearly as important as state polls in Iowa and New Hampshire for the simple reason that national polls will move dramatically after those states vote.

So how’s Newt doing in Iowa? Newtastic:

Mr. Gingrich, who is scrambling to build a campaign structure that can capitalize on his surging popularity, holds considerable advantages over his rivals. The poll found that he is winning support from 31 percent of likely caucusgoers, who rate him as the most empathetic, the strongest commander in chief and best prepared for the job by a 2-to-1 margin. Mr. Romney had the support of 17 percent and Mr. Paul 16 percent.

The poll found that Mr. Gingrich is drawing more than twice as much support as Mr. Romney among men and those who identify themselves as either somewhat or very conservative. He receives three times more support than Mr. Romney from evangelicals. Mr. Romney receives more support from voters who call themselves moderate.

Yet only 38 percent of likely caucusgoers say that they had been contacted by the Gingrich campaign, raising questions about his ability to identify his supporters and lure them to more than 1,600 precinct caucus locations on a winter night. By comparison, 77 percent say that they have been contacted by the Paul campaign and 60 percent by the Romney campaign, underscoring a stealth operation that has been under way for months.

Newt’s favorables are 55/16 compared to just 43/33 for Romney, who was at 57/18 at the start of the month. I don’t know how to explain that dip except that undecideds are settling on Gingrich and then adjusting their opinions of Romney accordingly. Still, that boldfaced part is a major obstacle for Newt, I think, especially since so much of his cash is still tied up in campaign debt. Analysts, including the Times, keep pushing the point that something like 60 percent of primary voters say they could still change their minds, which is fair enough. But when is this mind-changing supposed to occur? We’re 28 days from the caucuses. A chunk of that time will be consumed by holiday distractions. If Newt’s going to implode before Iowa, realistically it’ll have to happen in the next two weeks or at the Trump debate a few days before the caucuses. Unless Romney’s got some killer oppo he’s ready to roll out at just the right moment, there’s no reason to think Gingrich will falter. There is reason, thanks to his skeletal organization, to think he might have trouble turning people out.

And if he does falter, we’re going to have a short primary season because Romney will be the only viable nominee left standing. The second-choice data:

If Perry had taken, say, 40 percent in that category then I’d think a resurgence was possible, but as it is, a Newt implosion seems likely to make Iowa a battle between Romney and Ron Paul. And if Ron Paul wins, that’s almost as good as a victory for Mitt: The GOP establishment will swing behind him to stop Paul and he’ll steamroll through the rest of the primaries. More bad news for Perry:

Take Newt out of the equation and it’s obvious who benefits. Especially since Iowa Republicans are becoming more willing to compromise on ideology in the name of electability as we get closer to the caucuses:

In fact, the most interesting data point from the Times’s crosstabs is where they asked respondents to say for each candidate whether they’d enthusiastically support them, support them with reservations, support them simply because they’re a Republican, or not support them at all. The numbers who say flatly that they wouldn’t support a particular candidate are remarkably consistent across the field, ranging from a low of 12 percent who say it of Gingrich to a high of 18 percent who say it of Bachmann and Huntsman. (A high of 36 percent said they’d support Huntsman simply because he’s a Republican.) Iowa Republicans really want to beat Obama and the vast majority are willing to support whoever emerges in the name of doing it, which suggests to me that if Newt’s blown his chance by the time caucus night arrives, undecideds are going to bite the bullet and back the next most-electable guy.

Exit question: This can’t be right, can it? Just 36 percent in socially conservative Iowa want to ban abortion outright?