I must say I got a chuckle out of former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani’s comments Monday night on CNN: “My gut tells me right now as I look at it that Gingrich might actually be the stronger candidate, because I think he can make a broader connection than Mitt Romney to those Reagan Democrats. . . . You won’t have this barrier of possible elitism that I think Obama could exploit pretty effectively.”

His timing couldn’t be worse. We’re beginning to see polling (and there will be more later today) showing that Gingrich lags significantly in electability. The Gallup-USA Today race reported: “In swing states, Obama trails former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney among registered voters by 5 points, 43% vs. 48%, and former House speaker Newt Gingrich by 3, 45% vs. 48%. That’s a bit worse than the president fares nationwide, where he leads Gingrich 50%-44% and edges Romney 47%-46%.”

But there’s more. Maybe Giuliani should agree to be Gingrich’s vice president. Combined, they have had six wives and have offended, attacked or let down most social conservatives. The chattering class thinks it would be “dangerous” for Romney if Giuliani endorsed Gingrich. Puleeez.

Gingrich has a character problem. He doesn’t need a thumbs up from someone with many of his own issues and whose taste in friends ran to Bernie Kerik. There is evidence that Gingrich’s favorability rating is heading down in Iowa (by a net 19 points in a week, according to Public Policy Polling survey). Meanwhile, a “group of Christian faith leaders are hitting the road to urge conservatives to caucus for Michele Bachmann – not the race’s frontrunner, Newt Gingrich.”

Most of the Beltway media (including conservatives) saw the debate and concluded Gingrich “parried” the attacks. (Did they expect him to become a human shish kabob?) But in fact for a couple of weeks, the electorate is getting a decidedly negative message — actually many negative messages — from his rivals about Gingrich while Gingrich isn’t even up on the air with his own ads. No wonder his negatives are going up.

What Giuliani comically missed and what the mainstream media chose to ignore is that, for Iowa voters who know Gingrich mostly from Fox News and his books, a lot of this is new information and his know-it-all demeanor outside the role of political analyst may be off-putting. Moreover, while Giuliani and elite reporters (on both the right and left) are inured to political hypocrisy, the revolving door and multiple marriages, conservative voters may want more in their president.

And it is in this context that Romney’s somewhat stiff persona may help. For many conservatives, the liberal infatuation with Obama’s “coolness” was grating. They might really like a president whose language, cultural references and associations seem more formal, less edgy. Especially among Republicans, a square, formal president might come as a relief.

UPDATE (3:35 p.m.): PPP is out with details from its new poll in Iowa. Gingrich is now at 22 percent and his lead is down to one point over Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), with Romney at 16 percent. Gingrich has gone from a plus-31 favorable rating (62/31 percent) to plus-12 (52/40 percent). He’s dropped 11 points with Tea Partyers.