So while he hasn’t shown up in Iowa much this year, it’s an open secret that Romney’s team has been laying the groundwork for a surprisingly strong showing (Evidence: He’s up with 885 gross ratings points this week in Des Moines). Keep the expectations low, the thinking has gone, and then spring the stunning victory that knocks the rest of the field out of contention and effectively sews up the nomination.

But if Romney’s ceiling is somewhere around 25 percent, he might want to revisit that initial skepticism. All indications are that Newt Gingrich is uniting a significant portion of the Republican electorate; an ABC News/Washington Post poll out today shows Gingrich at 33 percent among likely caucus-goers, while Romney and Rep. Ron Paul are tied at 18 percent. That’s a bigger lead than Gingrich enjoyed in a Des Moines Register poll (Gingrich 25 percent, Paul 18, Romney 16) and an NBC News/Marist poll (Gingrich 26, Romney 18, Paul 17) released over the weekend…

The temptation to deliver a knockout blow in Iowa must be strong for Romney’s team. But if he swings too hard and misses, Iowa could punch back and cost Romney the aura of the front-runner that big polling leads in New Hampshire have thus far afforded.