New poll shows Romney now in dead heat with Gingrich in ...

Yes, I think it’s safe to say that the Newt Gingrich bubble has gotten seriousA new poll from Magellan Strategies in New Hampshire — Mitt Romney’s long-held redoubt — shows Gingrich now in a virtual dead heat with the presumed Republican frontrunner.  As NH Journal reports, the internals look even better for Gingrich than the top-line numbers:

The latest NH Journal poll of likely Republican primary voters conducted by Magellan Strategies shows Romney and Gingrich in a statistical dead heat for the January 10th primary. If the election were held today, Romney would earn 29% of the vote and Gingrich would earn 27%. Texas Congressman Ron Paul continues to show resolve by earning 16%. Herman Cain gets 10%. No other candidate is in double digits.

This is the first time any of NH Journal’s polls have shown anyone candidate even close to Romney. It also shows tremendous movement for Gingrich since NH Journal’s October survey, in which Gingrich was in third place, but at only 10% versus Romney’s 41%. …

A close look at the data shows Gingrich is actually leading Romney among certain important subgroups of the electorate. Among self-identified conservative voters, Gingrich beats Romney 34%-27%. Among self-identified tea party voters, he leads Romney 38%-21%.

However, Romney has a wide lead over Gingrich among Undeclared voters, who give the former Massachusetts Governor 29% over Paul’s 19% and Gingrich’s 18%. There is also a significant gender gap for both Romney and Gingrich. Romney beats Gingrich 33%-22% among women while Gingrich defeats Romney 32%-24% among men.

If this is not an outlier (Magellan is a fairly reliable pollster), then this is a blockbuster result.  Romney doesn’t need to win Iowa to garner the nomination; a strong second-place finish there could propel him quickly to the ticket — but only if he wins New Hampshire.  A loss in this state would be a body blow, especially if Gingrich wins Iowa ahead of New Hampshire and then takes aim at South Carolina and Florida.  Even a win in Michigan and Nevada might not slow down Gingrich, and Romney could be looking at a second consecutive CPAC concession in his presidential-campaign career if he loses either or both of those.

There are, however, a couple of big caveats.  No one has really tested Gingrich in this campaign, mainly because no one has needed to go on the attack against someone who hasn’t been a front-runner.  Romney will have no choice now but to open fire on the man who has praised him in the debates, and probably with much more gusto than he did against Rick Perry, who was never a threat to Romney in New Hampshire.

Another point to keep in mind is that Gingrich himself has only begun to perform as a front-runner, and he comes to this polling result with a huge disadvantage in organization.  Last night, Gingrich welcomed back the staff who walked out on him in June, which might accelerate the organizational build-up he needs to really compete in Iowa and New Hampshire:

For Newt Gingrich, the latest twist on “what goes around, comes around” has an unusual personal dimension. On top of his surge in polls and fund-raising, Mr. Gingrich has rehired two of the Iowa staff members who quit during a mass exodus from his campaign in June. …

Thanks to his solid performances in national debates, he has gradually gained supporters and donors, emerging at the top of some recent polls and flush with enough money to hire a new staff.

Last week he opened offices in New Hampshire and South Carolina. And on Thursday the campaign announced it had rehired Craig Schoenfeld, who had been state director in Iowa before the departures, and Katie Koberg, who had been deputy director. The hirings were first reported by The Des Moines Register.

Still, the polling results offer a bad omen for Romney, who had been quietly building a narrative of inevitability for his nomination.  If he becomes vulnerable in the one state he had thought was locked into his camp, then the state might be open to nearly any one of the candidates who can manage to boost their polling.  If Gingrich can build his organization quickly and manage to withstand the scrutiny of being the front-runner, he could push Romney out of the nomination by early January … but those are mighty big ifs, too.