With businessman Herman Cain gone from the Republican presidential race, former US House of Representatives speaker Newt Gingrich luxuriated in good polling news over the weekend — two key surveys showing him well ahead of main challenger, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, in the fast-approaching Iowa caucuses.
Voters in the state will vote in local caucus meetings on Jan. 3, the first-in-the-nation contests that choose delegates to the Republican national convention in September next year that will formally name the party’s challenger to US President Barack Obama.
An Iowa victory would mark a stunning turnaround for Gingrich’s once long-shot bid for the nomination. Most of his staff resigned in the summer as complaining about a lackluster, minimalist campaign that placed him near the bottom in the race.
However, Gingrich began rising as Cain was brought low by allegations of sexual harassment and a 13-year extramarital affair. Cain denied any misconduct, but ended his run on Saturday, having slid from a brief period at the top of some polls into single-digit obscurity.
The other candidates are now trying to attract Cain’s conservative supporters. Gingrich’s campaign was meeting with former Cain aides and advisers. With Cain’s endorsement still available, Gingrich and his rivals were looking to schedule one-on-one meetings this week with him.
More Republican candidates were looking ahead to a week of heavy campaigning in Iowa ahead of the next debate, scheduled for Saturday.
The wobbly US economy remains the top issue in next year’s presidential election and Obama is deeply vulnerable on that issue because unemployment, while down slightly, remains at a damaging 8.6 percent level, and millions of Americans have lost their homes to mortgage foreclosures in the aftermath of the recession that began at the end of former US president George W. Bush’s second term in office.
Polling shows that Obama’s favorable rating is at an all-time low, yet in head-to-head matchups with the leading Republican contenders he is either leading or in a statistical tie.
As the race narrows, Gingrich appears to have been the biggest beneficiary of Cain’s slide.
A Des Moines Register poll conducted from Nov. 27 to Nov. 30 and released late on Saturday found him leading in Iowa among likely Republican caucus-goers with 25 percent support, ahead of Texas Representative Ron Paul at 18 percent and Romney at 16 percent.
A separate NBC News/Marist poll showed Gingrich beating Romney, 26 percent to 18 percent, among likely Republican caucus attendees in Iowa.
While Gingrich has risen in Iowa, Romney still holds a sizable lead in surveys in New Hampshire, where he has a vacation home. The state holds the first primary election of the campaign season seven days after the Iowa caucuses and the Obama campaign still appears to view Romney as the likely Republican nominee, given its continuing sharp attacks on what it says is his absence of a moral core politically.
Top Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod said on Sunday that Romney “seems to think that every day is a new day that he can simply change all of his positions, depending on what — who his audience is or what the political circumstance is, and that is not what you want in a president of the United States.”
Axelrod said on NBC’s Meet the Press that Romney’s record of changing positions on critical issues to meet the wants of audiences has been a huge drag on his campaign.