If Mitt Romney wins Iowa, will it be because his opponents underestimated him?


And yet, a survey of campaign ads in the Hawkeye State this month shows that Romney--the former Massachusetts governor who is at the front of the pack in Iowa--has largely escaped the brutal attacks that have blunted the momentum of other GOP hopefuls.

As The Post’s Phil Rucker and Dan Balz report in today’s Washington Post, negative ads against Romney comprised only 20 percent of all TV spots aired in Iowa this month, according to an analysis by the Campaign Media Analysis Group.

By contrast, 45 percent of all ads aired so far in December have been negative spots against former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who earlier this month was riding high in Iowa.

In other words, Gingrich has weathered more than twice as many attack ads than Romney has during the month of December – a factor that may help explain why Gingrich’s support in the polls collapsed while Romney’s held steady.

The dynamic in Iowa is evident in a new NBC-Marist poll released Friday morning. That survey, like a CNN/TIME/Opinion Research survey earlier this week, shows Romney in a dead head with Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas). Romney takes 23 percent among likely Iowa GOP caucus-goers in the new survey, while Paul takes 21 percent--a statistical tie, given the poll’s margin of error.

But Paul fares poorly overall compared to Romney when it comes to electability: 41 percent of likely caucus-goers say he would be unacceptable as their party’s nominee.

Only 21 percent in the NBC-Marist poll say the same of Romney, who plans to take a swing through New Hampshire Friday night and Saturday morning, then return to Iowa through caucus night – a sign of his campaign’s increasing confidence in its chances of a Hawkeye State victory.

Among the other candidates, former senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) takes 15 percent in the poll, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) garners 14 percent, Gingrich takes 13 percent and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) nets only six percent of likely caucus-goers. Seven percent remain undecided.

Notably, 35 percent of likely caucus-goers say that Gingrich would make an unacceptable GOP nominee – up 19 percentage points from last month, according to MSNBC’s First Read. Many analysts attribute the slide to the barrage of negative ads on the airwaves.

Today on the trail (Courtesy of the PBS NewsHour Political Calendar and campaign advisories; all times Eastern):

7:30 a.m.: former Utah governor Jon Huntsman speaks at a Rotary meeting in Bow, New Hampshire.

8 a.m.: Gingrich campaign event at the Wakonda Club in Des Moines, Iowa.

8:20 a.m.: Craig and Matt Romney attend the Nashua, N.H. GOP breakfast at the Nashua Crowne Plaza.

9:05 a.m.: Mitt Romney holds a rally at the Hy-Vee Westlakes Shore in West Des Moines, Iowa.

11 a.m.: Huntsman holds a town hall in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

11:55 a.m.: Craig and Matt Romney host Romney for President Grassroots Lunch at Lindy’s Diner in Keene, New Hampshire.

12:30 p.m.: Huntsman visits Calef’s Famous Country Store in Barrington, New Hampshire.

1 p.m.: Perry holds a meet-and-greet in Waterloo, Iowa.

1 p.m.: Craig and Matt Romney walk through downtown Keene, New Hampshire.

2 p.m.: Paul holds a town hall meeting at the LeMars Convention Center in LeMars, Iowa.

3:45 p.m.: Perry holds a meet-and-greet at the Fainting Goat in Waverly, Iowa.

4 p.m.: Rick Santorum hosts a bowl watch party at the Buffalo Wild Wings in Ames, Iowa.

4 p.m.: Paul holds a town hall at the public library in Sioux Center, Iowa.

5:55 p.m.: Romney hosts a spaghetti dinner at the VFW in Merrimack, New Hampshire.

6 p.m.: Gingrich holds a campaign event at the Adams Street Espresso & Soda Shoppe in Creston, Iowa.

6:15 p.m.: Huntsman visits Butter’s Fine Food Store in Concord, New Hampshire.

6:30 p.m.: Santorum holds a town hall at the Legends American Grill in Marshalltown, Iowa.

6:30 p.m.: Perry attends the Cerro Gordo County GOP Fundraiser at the Mason City Country Club in Mason City, Iowa.

7 p.m.: Huntsman holds a town hall in Canterbury, New Hampshire.

8 p.m.: Paul holds a town hall at the River’s Bend Convention Center / Stoney Creek Inn in Sioux City, Iowa.

9 p.m.: Gingrich holds a campaign event at M’s Fine Dining in Shenandoah, Iowa.