The rise of Newt Gingrich was supposed to signal the end of Mitt Romney as a candidate. The base had spoken, galvanizing behind a conservative and rejecting the mainstream moderate.
Until they didn’t.
Now, the polls show Gingrich and Romney running neck and neck. In fact, there is something very strange happening. According to the CBS, ABC, and CNN polls Romney and Gingrich are dead even.
Normally you’ll see fluctuation, variance from one poll to the next, but in three of the biggest polls in the country, it’s as even as even can be.
More importantly, these latest numbers show movement in a direction we haven’t really seen in this election cycle outside of the first few weeks.
Romney is moving up.
When Gingrich start to make his push, before Cain dropped out, some polls had Romney running third. He couldn’t seem to break above that 20-25% mark.
Yet Cain, Perry and Gingrich had all been at or above 30% at various times.
Romney’s 28% in the CNN/Research Poll is the highest since he announced his candidacy.
Mitt Romney is gaining support as we head into caucus season, something he absolutely had to do, or risk letting dark horses like Rick Perry and Ron Paul snatch votes.
This rise (much to the dismay of this author) likely signals the end of Jon Huntsman as a candidate as his only chance was a weak showing from Romney in Iowa followed by a less than impressive win in New Hampshire.
Neither of those now seem likely.
While it remains much too early to tell how much Republican support Romney will receive, it’s worth noting that he’s the only candidate who has polled ahead of Obama.
The current RCP average has Romney trailing, but 2 percentage points is hardly an onerous deficit to overcome, particularly when Gingrich is down 8% or more in most polls to Obama.
What we will have to see over the next month or two is where support will shift when it becomes clear Bachmann, Perry and Santorum are out of the race.
Between them, they hold 10-15% of the Republican support, plus the 5% or so of undecided Republican voters.
Not only do party leaders have to decide who Republicans will support, but who independents and moderates will support.
For supporters of Romney, his latest surge in the polls against the most formidable conservative foe he’s seen to date, is a sign that his campaign is moving in the right direction.
With tensions at a boiling point in Congress and people at all-time low levels of satisfaction with government, a moderate candidate who has a history of working across the party isle could be the kind of compromise the American electorate can see.
It’s possible that when Romney and Obama face off in debates, that will become more readily apparent, given that it won’t take much to drive home the effects of perhaps the most partisan president in modern history.
Many conservatives wanted a referendum on conservative ideals in 2012. If Romney continues to surge, the likelihood of that happening dwindles.
On the other hand, a recklessly liberal president would become a one-term administrator and our country could begin to regain the kind of small government system envisioned when it was founded.