Gingrich takes wide leads in NC, CO in PPP polls

The Newt Gingrich surge has broken out of the early primary states, according to Democratic pollster PPP.  The former Speaker now has a 37-point lead over Mitt Romney in North Carolina, a state that broke for Barack Obama in 2008, and now leads in Colorado after having only had 9% of the vote in the last survey in the series:

Newt Gingrich’s momentum in the Republican Presidential race is continuing to build: PPP finds him with large leads in both North Carolina and Colorado. It’s also looking more and more like the GOP contest is down to a two man race, as Gingrich and Mitt Romney are the only candidates in double digits in either of those states.

In North Carolina Gingrich is at 51% to 14% for Romney, 8% for Michele Bachmann, 7% for Ron Paul, 4% for Rick Perry, 3% for Rick Santorum, 1% for Jon Huntsman, and 0% for Gary Johnson.

In Colorado Gingrich is at 37% to 18% for Romney, 9% for Bachmann, 6% for Paul, 4% for Perry and Santorum, 3% for Huntsman, and 1% for Johnson.

5 weeks ago Gingrich was at 22% in North Carolina, so he’s gained 29 points since then. In August Gingrich was at 9% in Colorado, so he’s gained 28 points since our last poll there.

Not surprisingly, considering those numbers, Gingrich now leads in practically every demographic:

Gingrich’s wide leads are a reflection of the fact that he’s basically winning every group of Republican voters now.  For instance he’s very strong with the Tea Party, leading Romney 53-10 in NC (with Bachmann at 13%) and leading Romney 42-9 in CO (with Bachmann at 17%) with those voters.  But he’s winning over moderate voters within the party as well, leading Romney 38-21 with them in North Carolina and 26-22 with them in Colorado. Gingrich’s appeal right now is very broad within the Republican electorate.

These polls provide more evidence of a Romney fade.  He’s down 5 points from 19% a month ago in North Carolina and his net favorability has dropped from +23 (53/30) to +16 (50/34). It’s a similar story in Colorado. He’s down 4 points from his 22% standing when we last polled there in August, although there at least his favorability numbers have remained unchanged.

PPP sees a bit of a renaissance in Michele Bachmann’s Iowa numbers, not the first pollster to do so.  Gingrich’s rise may be fueled in large part by Tea Party dissatisfaction with Romney and the decline of Herman Cain, but Gingrich is not a checkbox conservative.  The race really only has two such candidates with whom the Tea Party activists and adherents can feel comfortable — Bachmann and Rick Santorum, with possibly Rick Perry as an option as well.  It’s very possible that Gingrich’s rise will leave a little room to the right for one of these candidates to grab back some of Gingrich’s surge, especially if Gingrich doesn’t raise enough money to organize effectively.

However, as PPP also points out, Gingrich’s support in these two states is remarkably soft, with just over a third firmly committed to him.  The second choice for these voters?  Romney, which underscores how closely they may end up aligning in the end with primary voters, and why there may still be room for another boomlet in this race.

The Gingrich surge has surprised a lot of people, and according to Politico, that includes the strategists in Team Obama:

President Obama’s advisers, long convinced that Romney would be their opponent, now think Obama has a realistic chance of facing Gingrich, and are frantically rewriting a playbook that has been three years in the making. The campaign hadn’t even put together a comprehensive opposition research folder on Gingrich, in part because they expected Romney as the nominee but also because of the assumption that his record was so well-known.

The advisers, especially David Axelrod — who has led the campaign’s frontal assault on Romney — are finally coming around to the possibility that Gingrich might actually be the GOP nominee.

A few weeks ago, this might have delighted Democratic strategists, but now that they see the phenomenon unfolding, they may not be as sanguine about running against Gingrich:

But there’s also a wary recognition that Gingrich may be catching a wave that is both powerful and unpredictable.

They worry that Gingrich would be an erratic opponent, and therefore harder to handle than the relatively predictable Romney. Running against him may prove more difficult than it looks at first blush.

“It would be a nastier, more intense campaign,” said the Democrat close to the White House. “Newt has a history of getting people to rise to his bait. The president would have to stay mellow, steady Eddie.”

Unfortunately, the White House has already jumped feet first into a class-warfare strategy intended to paint Romney as a rich fat cat, and have begun their own nasty campaign that presumed Romney to be the nominee.  The ‘steady Eddie’ strategy got tossed out in September in favor of the populist activist.  Walking that back would mean once again having to change their messaging, which would look clumsy indeed.  Perhaps they should have waited for the first votes to get cast before launching their campaign strategy — and maybe this President should have focused on his job rather than his next campaign as a re-election strategy anyway.