Oh my: Ron Paul within one point of Gingrich in Iowa?

Hey now. I was writing “Could Ron Paul seriously win Iowa?” posts before writing “Could Ron Paul seriously win Iowa?” posts was cool.

There has been some major movement in the Republican Presidential race in Iowa over the last week, with what was a 9 point lead for Newt Gingrich now all the way down to a single point. Gingrich is at 22% to 21% for Paul with Mitt Romney at 16%, Michele Bachmann at 11%, Rick Perry at 9%, Rick Santorum at 8%, Jon Huntsman at 5%, and Gary Johnson at 1%.

Gingrich has dropped 5 points in the last week and he’s also seen a significant decline in his favorability numbers. Last week he was at +31 (62/31) and he’s now dropped 19 points to +12 (52/40). The attacks on him appear to be taking a heavy toll- his support with Tea Party voters has declined from 35% to 24%.

Paul meanwhile has seen a big increase in his popularity from +14 (52/38) to +30 (61/31). There are a lot of parallels between Paul’s strength in Iowa and Barack Obama’s in 2008- he’s doing well with new voters, young voters, and non-Republican voters…

Simple question: What’s Paul’s ceiling in Iowa? A friend on Twitter was arguing earlier that it’s 20 percent, which is borne out by the polls — so far. If he’s right then Paul can’t win. But … what if Paul’s ceiling is actually 30 percent? Note that his favorables are trending upwards while Newt’s are sinking under the weight of renewed scrutiny of his various conservative heresies. If you’re an Iowan who’s unhappy with the “electable” candidates — Romney for being too opportunistic, Gingrich for flirting too often with activist government, Perry for seeming too darned hapless — then Paul’s an obvious choice for your “none of the above” protest vote. So obvious, in fact, that both Glenn Beck and Joe Scarborough are threatening to back him as a third-party candidate if Gingrich is the nominee. (An interesting footnote in the PPP data: Voters split equally on whether their view of the GOP establishment is favorable or unfavorable, and among the latter group Paul leads by double digits at 34 percent.) If he can pull 10 percent from voters like that on top of the 20 percent who make up his base, then his chances at an upset improve dramatically. And don’t forget, not only is Paul’s base famously enthusiastic and guaranteed to turn out, he’s one of the best organized candidates in Iowa this time. He might be able to get leaners to come out and caucus come rain or shine. Can Gingrich do the same?

I’ll bet Romney’s kicking himself now for not having abandoned Iowa early on. If he had done that, he could have sent his supporters out to caucus for Paul, thereby detonating Newt’s chances; if he tried that now, having competed in earnest in the state, the headlines would be all about Romney’s shockingly poor finish in Iowa, which would actually help Gingrich in New Hampshire even if he finished second to Paul in the caucuses. (On the other hand, per Rasmussen, Paul’s just four points back of Gingrich for second place in New Hampshire too.) Two exit questions for you, then. One: As chances of a Paul upset grow, will Iowa’s Republican leaders swing behind Newt or Mitt? They want the caucuses to remain relevant to choosing the eventual nominee, and if Paul wins, that’ll be two elections in a row where the Iowa winner realistically had no chance. Two: Could a Paul victory achieve a real “none of the above” outcome for the nomination? A brokered convention is unlikely – but, as Sean Trende explains, not impossible if Paul fares well.

Caucus states are also concentrated in the Mountain West, where his brand of Republicanism holds greater appeal. They’re also front-loaded, meaning that (a) his supporters will be less likely to have been swayed by the “can’t win” argument and (b) the more “establishment” Republican candidates are likely to split the non-Paul votes.

Overall, 486 delegates will be awarded in caucus states. If Paul picks off a sizable number of these delegates, say a quarter of them, and two other GOP candidates battle to a draw, there might not be a nominee by the end of June. This type of fight could carry over to the convention, since Paul is pretty feisty and is probably the least likely candidate out there to be “bought off” with a Cabinet position or speaking slot.

If, say, Perry and Gingrich are knotted up with about 1,050 delegates each, and Paul holds the remaining 200 and refuses to budge, you could end up with a deadlocked convention that eventually turns to a dark-horse candidate.

Ron Paul winning Iowa just might mean the GOP nominating Ryan, Christie, or Daniels. Second look at Ron Paul winning Iowa?