Another month, another bubble in the Republican presidential race — or is it more than that? In a pattern we have seen repeatedly this year, another GOP presidential candidate not named Mitt Romney has ascended to the top of national polling, transforming the race and etcetera etcetera etcetera. This time it’s Newt Gingrich taking the lead in both the latest USA Today/Gallup and Reuters/Ipsos polls. Let’s start with Gallup, which splits its report between the general-population and registered-voter results:
Republicans are most likely to name Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich as their first choice for their party’s 2012 presidential nomination, with Herman Cain close behind. Among all Republicans nationwide, Romney is the choice of 20% and Gingrich 19%. Among Republican registered voters, Gingrich is at 22% and Romney at 21%.
These results are based on a USA Today/Gallup poll of 1,062 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents conducted Nov. 13-17. Compared with the prior poll, conducted Nov. 3-6, Gingrich’s support has increased from 12% to 19% among all Republicans. His support has gone up in each of the last three polls after bottoming out at 4% in August, and is now at his highest for the campaign to date.
Meanwhile, Cain, who has been dogged by allegations of sexual harassment, has seen his support dip slightly, from 21% to 16%. However, it remains well above the levels from earlier this year, which were generally in the single digits.
Rick Perry’s support also slipped, to 8% in the latest poll, conducted after the two most recent candidate debates, including the Nov. 9 debate in which Perry failed to remember the names of all three cabinet departments he vowed to shut down if elected. Perry’s support has declined in each of the last three updates after peaking at 29% in mid-August, shortly after he entered the race.
In the general population, Gingrich holds a small lead over Romney among conservatives, 23/20, while Romney leads more significantly among moderate/liberal respondents, 20/12 over Gingrich and Cain (tied for second) and 11% for Ron Paul. The most remarkable part of this survey is that Ron Paul is the only candidate who hasn’t had a previous boomlet who scores significantly in the poll (4th place), which would theoretically give him position to be the next boomlet candidate if Gingrich fades.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online, not by phone, while Gallup conducted their survey more traditionally. They still ended up with about the same result, with Gingrich leading Romney 24/22, with Cain at 12% and Rick Perry in fourth at 10% instead of Ron Paul. The bigger takeaway in the Reuters/Ipsos poll was the impact of Gingrich’s ties to Freddie Mac — or more to the point, the lack of impact those ties have on voters:
In a sign of further relief for Gingrich, 46 percent of Republicans said the revelations that he had received up to $1.8 million in consulting fees from mortgage giant Freddie Mac had no impact on their view of the candidate.
Thirty-one percent said the issue left them with a less favorable opinion of Gingrich, who has criticized Freddie Mac sharply in the past.
“We have absolutely seen Gingrich surge,” said Ipsos pollster Julia Clark, noting that the former House leader from the 1990s was a more established political figure than some of his Republican counterparts who have slipped in the polls.
“Because he is established, this makes him much more well protected” from damage resulting from the Freddie connection, she said.
That’s true for now, at least. Gingrich spent quite a few years as a consultant, and his client list has yet to be fully vetted. Rudy Giuliani ran into a few issues with his client list in 2007/8, nothing major, but explaining is not winning. We’re at the beginning of the process of vetting Gingrich rather than the end, and with the debate coming up tomorrow, we’ll see how aggressive his competitors will be about challenging him on those ties.
At the same time, though, the Republican primary season will start in about seven weeks. That leaves little time for significant vetting, and it also means that there is precious little time for another candidate to catch fire before the Iowa caucuses take place. Republican voters will have to get out of the bubble bath at some point, sooner rather than later, and decide on a nominee. Gingrich has the highest national profile of the boomlet candidates thus far, and also surpasses those who haven’t yet hit a bubble, and that familiarity may make it difficult to dislodge him through any significant revelations.