Whoa: Newt 45, Obama 43

Guy Benson

11/30/2011 3:30:00 PM - Guy Benson

Oh my:
 

The Newt Gingrich surge has moved him to the top of the polls in Iowa, big gains in New Hampshire and now a two-point edge over President Obama in a hypothetical general election match-up. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of Likely Voters finds Gingrich attracting 45% of the vote while President Obama earns support from 43%. Six percent (6%) prefer some other candidate, and six percent (6%) are undecided.


Granted, the media is just beginning to sift through the seemingly boundless cache of Gingrich's past statements, contradictions, and peccadillos (see these eyebrow-raisers on healthcare mandates, for instance), but these numbers will still turn heads.  Hugh Hewitt's frank assessment is on the money: The former Speaker is an opposition researcher's dream come true. Disagree?  Read Jim Geragthy's new post, which barely scratches the surface.   If he's nominated, Democrats will have a field day dredging up Newt's past -- good, bad, and ugly -- minus the good.  It will become incumbent upon Republicans to remind voters of the positives, including Newt's leadership in engineering the first GOP takeover of the House in four decades, which brought about balanced budgets, landmark welfare reform, and tax relief.  Is that a winnable messaging fight?  I'm not sure.  Lest anyone still doubt the seriousness of Newtmentum (I'm still coming to grips with it myself, after Gingrich's stunningly terrible campaign roll-out), Commentary's Jonathan Tobin reviews some of the numbers:
 

A bevy of newly released surveys all show the same thing: the former Speaker of the House’s ratings have zoomed in the last month, with him surpassing Mitt Romney? in key states. Among the most impressive results was the Florida Times-Union’s survey that showed Gingrich being the choice of 41 percent of likely Republican primary voters with Romney a distant second with 17 percent. Other polls show Gingrich leading in Iowa, South Carolina and Louisiana with Romney ahead in California. While California is far bigger than the states Gingrich is leading in, it is also a late voting state that will do Romney little good if he loses the more crucial early primaries and caucuses.


All of this polling data points to two enduring truths, neither of which is particularly profound or original: 


(1) Many Republican voters do not want Mitt Romney to be the nominee.  They've drifted from one temporary frontrunner to another -- Trump, Bachmann, Perry, Cain, etc. -- in a frenzied attempt to settle on an acceptable non-Romney standard-bearer.  For now, and perhaps for good, they've landed on Newt Gingrich.  Amidst Newt's renaissance, Romney has floundered a bit.  He did himself absolutely no favors by turning in a peevish, aggrieved and exasperated interview performance, opposite Fox News anchor Bret Baier -- who commands near universal respect among viewers of all political stripes.  It seemed as though Romney felt inconvenienced by the task of answering questions about his own record.  It's true that some of the ground Baier covered last night has already been traversed extensively, but that is no excuse for Romney's odd, unattractive display of passive-aggressive hostility.  The moment GOP voters get the sense that Romney believes he's entitled to the nomination is the moment is campaign dies.  Last night's exchange came dangerously close to that line.

(2) President Obama is intensely unpopular.  This comes as no surprise to regular Townhall readers, but the new Rasmussen survey provides another useful data point.  Newt Gingrich is the walking definition of a polarizing political figure.  Everyone knows he's weighed down by personal failings.  Everyone knows he's supremely self-referential and pompous.  Yet he's edged ahead of the incumbent among those most likely to vote next November.  In the long run, this poll result says a lot more about Obama than it does about Gingrich.


UPDATE - Newtmania rolls on, unabated:
 

In Florida Gingrich is at 47% to 17% for Romney, 15% for Herman Cain, 5% for Ron Paul, 4% for Michele Bachmann, 3% for Jon Huntsman, 2% for Rick Perry, 1% for Rick Santorum, and 0% for Gary Johnson. In Montana Gingrich is at 37% to 12% for Paul, 11% for Romney, 10% for Bachmann and Cain, 5% for Perry, 3% for Huntsman, and 1% for Johnson and Santorum.  These two states really exemplify one of the key emerging trends in the Republican race- Gingrich isn't just rising, Romney's also falling. His 17% in Florida is down 13 points from 30% when we polled the state in late September. His 11% in Montana is down 11 points from 22% when we polled the state in June.


Newt is up by 30 points (!) in Florida?  What happens if this rocketing star suddenly crashes?
 

And if something does cause Newt's support to collapse? The next Republican in line is...Mitt Romney. 37% of Gingrich's supporters in Florida say Romney is their second choice to 17% for Cain and 11% for Perry. If December is Newt's month to implode as November was for Cain and October was for Perry and August was for Bachmann and May was for Trump then it looks like Romney will finally find himself in first place...at the only time that really matters.


I'd reckon a Gingrich collapse is possible, but not probable, for three reasons.  First, Newt has run with the big dogs for decades and is very glib.  Second, in many voters' minds, December means Christmas.  People just aren't paying attention to the news like they would at almost any other time of year.  Third, Newt is a known commodity, creating less space for a precipitous crash.