Rasmussen poll shocker: Gingrich tanks in Iowa, Romney now on top

Mitt Romney has never been expected to win Iowa, but he's taken the lead in that first-in-the-nation contest, a new Rasmussen poll shows. Newt Gingrich is a close second, but he has lost ground.

Jim Cole/AP
In this Dec.12 photo, Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney gestures during a campaign stop with mill workers at the Madison Lumber Mill in Madison, N.H.

Not so fast, Newt Gingrich. A new Rasmussen poll shows the former House speaker sinking below Mitt Romney in the firm’s latest survey of likely Republican caucus-goers in Iowa.

Mr. Gingrich is now at 20 percent, down from 32 percent a month ago, reports pollster Scott Rasmussen. Mr. Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, is at 23 percent, and Rep. Ron Paul (R) of Texas is at 18 percent. With a four-point margin of error, the poll points to a bunch-up that could spell potential victory for any of those three candidates.

Those three, plus Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, and former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. of Utah meet in Iowa Thursday night (9 p.m. EST) for their final debate before the state’s GOP caucuses on Jan. 3.

Rasmussen also notes that caucuses are a little harder to predict than a primary, because attending a caucus requires a greater time commitment at a specific time, in the evening, so it’s harder to tell who will actually show up. With less than three weeks to go, half of those polled said they could still change their minds, Rasmussen says.

But Gingrich’s double-digit plummet is significant. It mirrors the pattern Rasmussen has seen since he began polling Iowa Republicans in August: For five consecutive months, a different candidate has come out on top each time. First it was Representative Bachmann, who won the Iowa GOP’s unscientific, nonbinding straw poll in August. Next was Governor Perry, then Herman Cain, then Gingrich. The latest poll has Romney on top for the first time.

“For all the turmoil, Mitt Romney’s support has actually been pretty consistent,” Rasmussen says. Romney’s lowest number in any Rasmussen poll of Iowa this cycle was 17 percent. His highest is his current total of 23.

Representative Paul has been consistent, too, always polling in double digits. Support is deep for the libertarian-leaning congressman, and his team is well-funded and well-organized, which bodes well for a strong finish.  

But Gingrich’s decline is the headline, following a pummeling in ads by Romney, Paul, and Perry. Gingrich’s plunge mirrors what’s been happening in general election matchups in Iowa, Rasmussen says. “A few weeks ago, Gingrich was actually two points ahead of President Obama in a general election matchup. Last week, he was down five points, now he’s down 10,” says the New Jersey-based pollster. 

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