Iowa Polling: What A Long, Strange Trip It’s Been

Going into tonight's debate in Des Moines, Iowa, the attention is focused heavily on Newt Gingrich.

The latest polling puts him ahead of the rest of the GOP field in the Hawkeye state, which will hold the first voting contest of the 2012 primary season in just 24 days. In the past two weeks five major polls have placed the former House Speaker at the top of the pack.

The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll shows Gingrich with a 10 point lead over Mitt Romney. Gingrich polled at 28 percent, while Romney polled at 18 percent. Ron Paul was close behind at 16 percent. Rick Perry held in fourth place with 12 percent, and Michele Bachmann was at 10 percent. Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman rounded out the pack with single digit numbers- 4 percent and 2 percent respectively.

The numbers show a dramatic change for several of the candidates in the field, not just Gingrich. Just last month Bachmann compared the political fortunes of the GOP field to the volatile stock market.

"The political fortunes have really mirrored Wall Street, haven't they?" she said to ABC News' Ron Claiborne. "We've seen one candidate after another go up and go down."

Indeed, the poll numbers this cycle have been all over the map.

Four months ago Bachmann was at the top of the field in Iowa. She made history when she became the first female candidate to win the Ames Straw Poll. She received 28.55 percent of the vote at that event, which took place on Aug. 13. Ron Paul placed second in that event with 27.65 percent. Gov.  Tim Pawlenty, Santorum, and businessman Herman Cain rounded out the top five. Pawlenty received13.57 percent, Santorum 9.81 percent and Cain got 8.62 percent. Pawlenty and  Cain have since dropped out of the race.

As for today's frontrunner, Gingrich finished at the bottom end of the group in Ames, receiving just 2.28 percent of the vote.

The leadership standings within the field have shifted several times among Iowa voters since the straw poll. Starting in October and continuing into the beginning of November, Cain looked like the man to beat. A Des Moines Register poll conducted from October 23rd-26th placed the former pizza CEO at 23 percent in the polls- ahead of Romney, who received 22 percent, and  Paul, at 12 percent.  Bachmann had dropped to 8 percent and  Gingrich was still in single digits, at 7 percent.

Romney, who has consistently polled strongly both nationally and in Iowa, has also taken his turn as the top candidate in the Hawkeye state. An NBC News/Marist poll conducted at the beginning of October put Mr. Romney ahead of the group- with 23 percent. Herman Cain was polling at 20 percent at that time,  Paul at 11 percent, Perry and Bachmann were both at 10 percent and Gingrich was polling at  4 percent.

The only candidates who have yet to break out of single digits in Iowa are Santorum and Huntsman.  Santorum has campaigned hard in Iowa, visiting each of the state's 99 counties. Huntsman's strategy on the other hand does not include Iowa. He has not spent time nor money in the state and will not be attending tonight's debate.

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