Mitt Romney's disastrous week ends with collapse in national polls

Poll numbers for Mitt Romney aren't falling just in Florida. Newt Gingrich is the new top choice among likely Republican voters nationally, the latest Gallup tracking poll shows. 

Paul Sancya/AP
Republican presidential candidates, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, left, stands next to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich before a Republican Presidential debate Monday, at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Fla.

It's been a rough week for Mitt Romney.

His debates in South Carolina went poorly. He lost a primary by 12 percentage points that he had thought would be his. A trio of polls over the weekend showed him in a freefall in Florida relative to Newt Gingrich, despite pumping millions of advertising dollars into the state. His income tax returns, finally released, left him open to mockery about his 14 percent tax rate and offshore investments.

And now national polls seem to be going the way of the Florida polls.

The Gallup daily tracking poll – a five-day rolling average – put Mr. Gingrich on top among Republican voters, 31 percent to Mr. Romney's 27 percent, for the first time in well over a month on Tuesday. It's a massive change from the 23-point lead Romney enjoyed just over a week ago.

A Rasmussen poll, meanwhile, also showed Gingrich way up nationally, with 35 percent among likely GOP voters to Romney's 28 percent. "Support for Gingrich has jumped a total of 19 points in two surveys since early January, while Romney's support has held steady in that same period," the report says.

(In both polls, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul are registering in the low double-digits.)

It's clear the polls are changing, rapidly. On Monday, Gallup's national poll showed Romney and Gingrich in a statistical tie – itself a big shift from the previous week. In a campaign that has been notable since the summer for its rapid and large shifts in poll results, the first few contests have done nothing to change that.

In a blog Monday night, Gallup pollster Frank Newport wrote: "Gingrich and Romney continue to exchange the lead in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, not unlike the final quarter of a close championship football game. The most obvious implication of this back and forth is Romney's failure to consolidate and sustain his support among Republicans nationally. The virtual evaporation of Romney's 20-plus-point lead over the last week suggests that Republicans most certainly have not settled on the former Massachusetts governor as their final choice for the nominee. The fact that Gingrich has managed to resurrect his standing in the polls once again suggests that Republicans have most certainly not ruled him out."

In both polls, conservative Republicans have been key to Gingrich's resurgence. Gallup's numbers, for instance, show that in the two weeks of mid-January, Gingrich's support among conservatives grew from 16 percent to 28 percent, while Romney's support among that same group fell from 36 percent to 28 percent.

Similarly, the Rasmussen poll shows Gingrich favored heavily by voters who consider themselves tea party Republicans, very conservative, or evangelical Christians.

Rasmussen also shows that voters' perception of the race is changing.

Last week, 70 percent of all likely GOP voters believed that Romney would eventually be the nominee. That figure has now dropped to just 51 percent, while 32 percent believe Gingrich will be the nominee (up from 13 percent a week ago).

Stand by. There's always next week. 

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