WASHINGTON — New polls of the volatile Republican presidential race showed Tuesday that surging Newt Gingrich is extending his lead, both in the leadoff Iowa caucus nominating contest and nationwide.
Two surveys of likely voters in the Iowa caucuses on January 3 show the former firebrand Republican House speaker a strong front runner over Romney, who has struggled to cement support among the party’s conservative base.
Gingrich’s numbers also appeared to have capitalized on the withdrawal from the race of the last surprise front runner, former pizza executive Herman Cain, who backed away on Saturday amid accusations of personal scandal.
A Washington Post/ABC News poll of 858 likely Iowa caucus goers published Tuesday put Gingrich on top of the field at 33 percent, trailed by Romney on 18 percent, pegged level with libertarian conservative Ron Paul.
A New York Times poll of 642 independent and Republican voters who expect to take part in the fabled caucuses put Gingrich, a former Georgia congressman, on 31 percent ahead of Romney on 17 percent and Paul on 16 percent.
A separate poll from Winthrop University showed that Gingrich was also favored in another crucial early voting state, South Carolina, which goes to the polls on January 21.
Gingrich led the survey of 1,073 registered voters in the key southern state at 38 percent, followed by Romney at 22 percent.
In the second early voting state, New Hampshire, which holds its Republican primary on January 10, Romney still leads a RealClearPolitics average of polls by 14 percentage points.
Gingrich has also vaulted into the lead in national polls of the Republican race, which are not decisive in a contest fought on a state-by-state basis, but do reflect the temperature of national opinion of a particular candidate.
In a new Gallup rolling nationwide survey of 1000 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, Gingrich led the pack at 37 percent ahead of Romney at 22 percent with all other Republican candidates in single figures.
Gingrich is the latest candidate to surge to the front of the Republican pack ahead of Romney, the former businessman considered the pick of the Republican establishment and by some analysts as the most electable potential nominee to take on President Barack Obama next November.
Commentators are now watching to see whether Gingrich can overcome a penchant for controversial statements and a history of falling into political snafus, and cement his lead in the polls before voting starts in earnest.
There are also questions whether Gingrich has the money and organizational flair for what could turn out to be a long fight for the nomination, spread across many states.