That's the question everyone is asking after seeing the results of polls in Iowa and South Carolina this morning that appear to represent fresh evidence of "Newtmentum" not only nationally but in key states.
Just take a look at where Newt Gingrich stands in the new ABC News-Washington Post poll of likely Iowa Republican caucuses-goers - the ones who will gather less than a month from today to pick a candidate to be their nominee.
As of today, 33 percent of probable caucus-goers are backing Gingrich while both Mitt Romney and Ron Paul bring in 18 percent support each. Rick Perry gets 11 percent support; Michele Bachmann, 8; Rick Santorum, 7; and Jon Huntsman, 2 percent. http://abcn.ws/tIsrTE
Digging deeper into the results, it becomes even more apparent why Romney is going to have trouble with Gingrich:
-Gingrich beats Romney 31 percent to 20 percent on who voters "trust to handle the economy."
-Gingrich ties with Romney on who likely caucus-goers see as best able to beat Obama
-Just 3 percent of caucus-goers pick immigration as a top issue, which has been an area of vulnerability for Gingrich
-Forty-five percent see Romney's legacy of mandatory health care in Massachusetts as a major reason to oppose him for the nomination
There is also some evidence to suggest that if supporters decide to stray on Jan. 3, they may stray to Gingrich. Why? Only 8 percent of those polled say Ron Paul, who's tied for second with Romney, can beat President Obama and 46 percent say Paul's opposition to U.S. military interventions overseas is reason to oppose him for the nomination.
According to ABC News pollster Gary Langer, "Gingrich, by contrast, has no negative approaching that magnitude among likely caucus-goers in this survey - neither his views on immigration nor his marital history, seen as major shortcomings by just 15 and 16 percent, respectively."
And while Gingrich may be up in Iowa, critics have been raising questions about whether his campaign has the organization fortitude to make it through a long-haul primary with Romney. For example, will his campaign be able to get on the ballot in key states? Gingrich already blew a deadline in Missouri and there's some evidence to suggest there's more where that came from.
And, by the way, who is running Newt's operation? If you guessed "Newt," you'd be correct. It's never a good idea to have the candidate serve as manger, strategist and scheduler.
ABC's Jake Tapper takes a close look at the rise of Newt on "World News." WATCH: http://abcn.ws/sGVFnu
THERE'S STILL TIME IN IOWA. According to the new ABC-Washington Post poll: "There's room for movement. Just over half of likely caucus-goers, 52 percent, say there's a chance they may yet change their minds before the Jan. 3 event. Indeed, about one in four, 27 percent, say there's a 'good chance' they'll switch their first preference - more than enough to shift the standings if the bulk of them were to move in the same direction." http://abcn.ws/tIsrTE
SIGNS OF NEWT-MENTUM IN SOUTH CAROLINA. From our ABC News affiliate WCIV in Charleston, S.C.: "Newt Gingrich Has opened up a wide lead in South Carolina, according to a newly released Winthrop University political poll. Just over 1,000 likely voters participated in the poll between November 27th and December 4th. 34% of registered voters surveyed said they would select Newt Gingrich. 21.4% of likely voters are siding with Mitt Romney. Rick Perry came in third in the poll with 9%. It is clear that accusations of sexual harassment and an extra-marital affair had already taken a toll on Herman Cain in South Carolina before he suspended his campaign. In September's poll, 7.7% of likely primary voters chose Cain. This most recent poll showed him tallying 6.6% of the likely voters." http://bit.ly/usJ5Uf
THE ROMNEY-GINGRICH DILEMMA. What to do with the Newt? That's the question the Romney campaign and those in its orbit are asking now that the former House speaker has surged into first place in Iowa, ABC's Political Director Amy Walter writes. A few ideas, not all of them appealing:
-Go On The Attack: If Romney goes on the attack he risks a backlash from a GOP electorate that is already lukewarm, at best, about him. A messy fight in Iowa could also threaten Romney's lead in must-win New Hampshire.
-Let the SuperPAC Do The Dirty Work: So, why doesn't the pro-Romney SuperPAC, Restore Our Future, take on the heavy lifting? In reality, anything Restore Our Future does is going to be cast by the media and Romney's opponents as the work of Romney supporters.
-Let Newt be Newt: The longer Gingrich is in the spotlight, the greater the chance that he or his campaign will make mistakes. Combine that with that weight of press scrutiny, and it's hard to believe that Gingrich will go into the Iowa caucuses without some serious liabilities.
-Hope Anonymous Groups Get Active: As our ABC team in Iowa has witnessed first-hand, the anonymous attacks on Gingrich have already begun. Homemade leaflets outlining Gingrich's support for an individual mandate were stuck on car windshields at a recent event for the former House speaker in Iowa. http://abcn.ws/t3nYwH
ROMNEY SCORES TRIO OF GOLDEN STATE ENDORSEMENTS. Mitt Romney, who has been spending time in California this week raising money, has also been rounding up support. Today he grabs the endorsement of three Southern California congressmen: Jerry Lewis, Ken Calvert and Brian Bilbray. Lewis and Calvert both serve on the House Appropriations Committee and Bilbray is Chairman of the Immigration Reform Caucus. Lewis: "Mitt Romney has the conservative credentials to lead our economy out of this recession."; Calvert: "Governor Romney will be a steady and reliable commander of the ship of state and is the right man to manage critical but tight defense budgets and lead an American and global recovery."; Bilbray: "I also believe that Mitt Romney will be the best candidate to secure the border and put a halt to illegal immigration."
AND A FORMER VICE PRESIDENT. Romney, who is campaigning in Arizona today, will get the endorsement of former Vice President Dan Quayle, who now lives in the state. In a statement Quayle said, "Because of President Obama's failed leadership, Washington has become dysfunctional. We need a leader from outside of the Washington establishment to get America back on track. Mitt Romney has proven over and over that he is a leader. He is a man of integrity. He understands budgets and financial markets. He is strong on national defense and has a deep love of the conservative philosophy that makes America great. Governor Mitt Romney has what it takes to be a great President of the United States and that is why I enthusiastically endorse him for President."
MEANWHILE, AT THE DNC: ATTACKING MITT ON THE PAYROLL TAX. Despite Newt Gingrich's rise, the Democratic National Committee continues to focus most of its fire on Mitt Romney. Today the DNC is up with a new web video titled "Mitt Romney Flips on the Pay Roll Tax Cut." According to a DNC official: "Now that public support has increased for an extension of the payroll tax cut, Mitt Romney is jumping on the bandwagon once again to support a plan he previously opposed - demeaning it as nothing more than a 'temporary little Band-Aid.'" WATCH: http://bit.ly/sCa65V
ABC's Emily Friedman has the backstory: Speaking to conservative radio talk show host Michael Medved yesterday afternoon, Romney was asked what his position is on extending the payroll tax cut. The deadline for doing so is just a few weeks away. "Well, I would like to see the payroll tax cut extended because I know that working families are really feeling the pinch right now," said Romney. … In October, Romney sounded different, they said. He was asked by Julianna Goldman of Bloomberg, "Would you be OK with seeing the payroll tax cut?" "I don't want temporary little Band-Aids. I want to fundamentally restructure America's foundation economically," Romney responded at the time. While opponents are likely to home in on Romney's various statements as a shift in policy, the Romney campaign says that he has always been for an overhaul of the tax system, and not short-term fixes. Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in a statement that "Mitt has never met a tax cut he doesn't like but we're going to need more permanent job creating incentives in order to turn around the economy." http://abcn.ws/vKOWMh
ON THE HILL. ABC's John Parkinson reports: "All day we're hearing the Occupy Wall Street protesters will try to get into the House and Senate office buildings." Stay tuned.
THE BILLIONAIRE SET LEANS TOWARD ROMNEY. "The Republican presidential primary contest isn't over, but in the race to line up the richest donors, it's Mitt Romney vs. President Obama. Romney has drawn the most support from billionaires, with at least 42 donating to his campaign," reports the Washington Post' T.W. Farnam. "Obama is not far behind, with at least 30 billionaire supporters. Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman Jr. follow with 20 and 12, respectively, according to donor rolls and the current Forbes magazine list of 412 American billionaires. Very wealthy donors are likely to play a greater role in this election cycle in the wake of recent court decisions that have loosened rules for campaign contributions. That will only heighten one of the dominant narratives of the 2012 campaign: the nation's rising income inequality and the outsize political influence of the super-wealthy. This year is shaping up to be a reprise of the 2004 cycle, which saw big donations flow in for Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) an President George W. Bush. Romney's richest donor so far is hedge-fund titan John Paulson, who is worth an estimated $16 billion, according to Forbes. Paulson has given $1 million to the Restore Our Future super PAC, which former Romney aides set up to support his candidacy." http://wapo.st/rtW7sy
RON PAUL'S IOWA STRATEGY RUNS THROUGH NEW YORK. "Ron Paul's success in Iowa might have much to do with a sophisticated system of voter identification that is headquartered in a nondescript office in New York City's Chinatown," writes ABC News' Jason Volack. "Paul has visited the Hawkeye State at least once a week since May, racking up at least 47 appearances so far. The ground game hasn't gone unnoticed by Iowa's Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, who called Paul's operation the best of any of the Republican candidates in the state. … Paul's Phone from Home Program asks volunteers, no matter where they are in the country, to use their own phone to "survey" or ask potential supporters a series of questions on various topics and then ask who best represents their views. It's illustrated in a video clip posted online, where two young women working out of the New York City office are shown appealing for others to join in their crusade to promote the Texas congressman, 76. Once someone in Iowa is identified as a likely supporter, the name is then passed on to a field office, where another volunteer will again contact the potential supporter. 'It's an Iowan reaching out to another Iowan,' said a campaign volunteer who asked for anonymity." http://abcn.ws/tKyONA
GINGRICH BLASTS PELOSI'S THREAT. "Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich rebuked House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for suggesting she would offer details of a 1990s ethics probe against him if he becomes the Republican presidential nominee," Bloomberg's Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Henry Goldman report. "Gingrich, who was reprimanded by the House in 1997 after an ethics investigation, said members of Congress should bring charges against Pelosi, herself a former speaker, if she follows through on airing aspects of the probe. 'I want to thank Speaker Pelosi for what I regard as an early Christmas gift,' said Gingrich, taking questions from reporters in New York after meeting yesterday with real estate developer Donald Trump. 'It tells you how capriciously political that committee was that she was on it. It tells you how tainted the outcome was that she was on it.' Pelosi, a California Democrat, told the website Talking Points Memo Dec. 2 that she relished the possibility that Gingrich, who is rising in the polls, might become the Republican nominee." http://bloom.bg/vqdQYt
2012'S BARNES AND NOBLE PRIMARY. "Three of the 2012 GOP candidates have devoted a chunk of their campaign time to selling books, and, in the case of now-front-runner Newt Gingrich, documentary movies," ABC's Amy Bingham notes. "Both Herman Cain, who suspended his campaign Saturday, and Michele Bachmann have released books over the past two months. They have each conducted at least 10 book signings. Since September Gingrich, along with his wife, Callista, has hosted 11 movie screenings for the couple's three documentary films and 10 book signings, one of which, in Naples, Fla., sold more than 600 books, according to a report in the Naples News." http://abcn.ws/tYNfPR
SANTORUM COUNTERS ANTI-CAMPAIGN LITERATURE IN IOWA. ABC's Shushannah Walshe files this dispatch from Sioux Center, Iowa: "Fliers criticizing Rick Santorum were scattered throughout his event Monday at a small Christian college here in the Northwest part of the state, forcing the GOP presidential candidate to explain to the audience why he supported a moderate Republican during their time together in the U.S. Senate. The white paper reads, 'Why Rick Santorum is not fit to serve as President of the United States' and criticizes Santorum for endorsing Arlen Specter over the more conservative and now senator from Pennsylvania, Pat Toomey. 'It is well established that Rick Santorum aggressively campaigned for now-Democrat U.S. Senator Arlen Specter, one of the most pro-abortion Senators serving in the U.S. Senate - over a strongly pro-life primary opponent,' the flier reads. Santorum is anti-abortion rights and talks about it on the stump almost every day, but his endorsement of Specter has found its way on to anti-Santorum literature at events across the Hawkeye State. He addressed the fliers at Monday's event, telling the crowd he supported Specter because he was the chairman of the Senate's Judiciary Committee and promised Santorum that he would help usher in President Bush's Supreme Court nominees. After the event at Dordt College, where Santorum supporters numbered more than 100, the former Pennsylvania senator told reporters the literature doesn't bother him and 'it's part of the campaign.'" http://abcn.ws/tTXbdS
* Mitt Romney is campaigning in Paradise Valley, Arizona where he'll meet with grassroots supporters. Ann Romney is also on the trail, but in New Hampshire where she'll host an event in Somersworth.
* Michele Bachmann will lead a tele-town hall discussing the state of race, the economy, and immigration.
* Rick Santorum is in Iowa where he'll participate in two "Faith, Family, and Freedom" town hall's.
* Newt Gingrich is scheduled to attend a private fundraiser in New York City.
-ABC's Josh Haskell
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