Republican White House hopeful Newt Gingrich has surged to the front of the pack in Iowa, while rival Mitt Romney dropped to third place, a month before the state’s key caucuses, a poll showed.
Gingrich earned 25 percent support among likely Republican caucus voters polled by the Des Moines Register — a massive upswing from the seven percent backing he earned in the Iowa newspaper’s last poll in October.
Texas congressman Ron Paul moved into second place with 18 percent support, ahead of Romney, who earned just 16 percent, according to the newspaper.
The results are sure to disappoint Romney, who — though he has been seen as the default frontrunner for the Republican nomination to take on President Barack Obama in November 2012 election — has faltered amid Gingrich’s surge.
The Iowa caucuses on January 3 will kick off the 2012 presidential nominating season.
Though the largely rural midwestern state barely figures in the general election, it has become key to the nominating races.
Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, however had some good news from Iowa on Saturday, earning the endorsement of the Sioux City Journal.
“Within this year’s Republican presidential field, Romney again stands out as the candidate who is best prepared through experience, skills and qualities to lead the country,” the newspaper said.
“We believed a Romney-vs-Obama general election campaign would best serve the nation in 2008, and we believe the same is true in 2012.”
Strong debate performances by Gingrich, a former speaker of the House of Representatives, have shot holes in the default favorite status of Romney, who has failed to energize his party’s conservative base.
An Iowa win would give Gingrich’s campaign significant momentum, especially if he could follow up a week later with a primary win in New Hampshire, where he has already received a key newspaper endorsement.
In the Des Moines Register poll, Herman Cain — who on Saturday suspended his presidential bid amid allegations of sexual harassment and adultery — and Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann each earned eight percent support.
Rounding out the field, Texas governor Rick Perry and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum each garnered six percent support, and former US ambassador to China Jon Huntsman took two percent.
Selzer & Co. of Des Moines conducted the poll of 401 likely Republican caucusgoers on November 27-30, before Cain’s announcement. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.
Despite Gingrich’s lead, pollsters pointed out that the race was still far from over, with 11 percent of those surveyed saying they were not yet committed to a first choice, and 60 percent saying they could yet change their minds.