Religion just got re-injected into the presidential race thanks to new ads from Rick Perry and Mitt Romney. But really, it never left.

New polls in Iowa suggest Romney’s Mormon religion continues to be a sticking point among all-important evangelical Christians there. And that’s bad news for a Romney campaign that is trying desperately to prevent Newt Gingrich from scoring a big victory in the state’s caucuses.

A new CNN/Time poll out Wednesday showed Romney trailing Gingrich 33 percent to 20 percent in the Hawkeye State. A look at the crosstabs suggests religion is a big reason why.

Gingrich takes 31 percent of the self-described “born-again Christian” vote, which is pretty much in line with his overall vote total. Romney, though, takes just 13 percent of born-agains, and actually gets twice as much support — 26 percent — from the rest of the electorate.

Of all the different groups in the poll (old, young, rich, poor, men, women, etc.), none gives Romney a lower share of the vote than born-again Christians.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll from early this week showed something similar, with Romney taking 14 percent of self-described evangelicals and 21 percent of everyone else.

No other candidate showed such a deficit among evangelicals, and it was all to Gingrich’s benefit; he took 39 percent of evangelicals and 29 percent of non-evangelicals.

If Gingrich can rally the support of evangelicals and not lose their votes to the two more evangelical-friendly candidates in the field — Perry and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) — he’s got a great chance to bring home a victory. That’s a big pool of voters (half or more) that has shown itself to be pretty resistant to Romney.

In reality, though, this is nothing new for Team Romney.

In the 2008 caucuses, he took 19 percent of evangelicals despite taking 25 percent of the overall vote.

Of course, in that race, he was running against a former Baptist minister, Mike Huckabee, who took nearly half the evangelical vote.

The fact that Romney appears to be ceding evangelical voters to Gingrich — a Catholic who has been married three times — and other candidates who don’t appear to have a chance to win suggests little has changed among Romney and Iowa evangelicals over the past four years.

(It should be noted that the CNN/Time polls show Romney doing better with evangelicals/born-agains in other states.)

There’s still time — and Romney’s new ad is a good step toward emphasizing the broad concept of faith over a specific religion — but nobody should underestimate the role this is playing in Iowa.

Romney’s best hope is probably that evangelical voters fall out of love with Gingrich and disperse elsewhere, even if they don’t vote for him. Barring that, the math is pretty tough.

Gingrich says he would assist Israel attacking Iran: In some pretty heavy foreign policy comments Wednesday, Gingrich told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that he would assist Israel in attacking Iran.

Asked by Blitzer what he would do if Israel bombed Iran’s nuclear facilities, Gingrich insisted that Israel would have told him in advance because he’s a strong ally of theirs. And then he said that he would be happy to participate.

“If they told me in advance, I would say how can we help you,” he said, adding: “I would provide them intelligence. I’d provide them logistic support. And this is a line we have to draw. I mean, an Iranian nuclear weapon is potentially a second holocaust.”

Generally, presidential candidates will avoid such hypotheticals.

Romney says he exaggerated on health care bill as a ‘model’: Romney said in an interview with the Washington Examiner’s editorial board Wednesday that he was exaggerating when he said on Meet the Press in 2007 that his health care bill would be a model for most states.

Confronted with his statement from four years ago that the health care bill should be a model for “maybe not every state, but most,” Romney initially suggested he had never said it could be applied to most states.

When the quote was verified, though, Romney tried to laugh it off.

“Oh did I? Did I make that exaggeration?” Romney said.

Other highlights from the editorial board interview included Romney saying he has a plan for dealing with the millions of people who are in the United States illegally, but that it’s not yet ready for public consumption.

“I actually have a plan in mind; I haven’t unveiled it,” he said. “There are other people I’d like to sit down with and review it with me.”

Warren takes seven-point lead on Brown in new poll: A new poll in the Massachusetts Senate race shows former Obama adviser Elizabeth Warren (D) taking a seven-point lead on Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.).

The University of Massachusetts-Lowell/Boston Herald poll shows Warren gaining on Brown and leading 49 percent to 42 percent. The same poll in late September showed Brown leading by three, 41 percent to 38 percent, so the trend line is significantly in Democrats’ favor.

The poll also shows the once-popular Brown’s approval rating and favorable rating dipping below 50 percent. If they stay in that area in such a tough state for Republicans, he’s got basically no shot.

Republicans may disagree with the poll, but this race is looking more and more like an uphill battle for them.

Another competitive special election?: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has bought time in the special election for former congressman David Wu’s (D-Ore.) seat, according to Fix friend Reid Wilson — a sign that the Democratic-leaning Portland-area district may be at risk.

This is basically par-for-course by now. Democrats won a pretty solidly Republican district in upstate New York earlier this year before Republicans took a heavily Democratic one in New York City. Special elections are often more competitive than regular races because of increased focus and lower turnout.

Businessman Rob Cornilles (R) and state Sen. Suzanne Bonamici (D) are the candidates.


A new Quinnipiac poll verifies Gingrich’s double-digit lead in Florida.

A new Gallup poll shows enthusiasm among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents on the decline. Just 49 percent say they are more enthusiastic than usual, compared to 58 percent in September. The new number is only slightly higher than Democrats.

Former Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Kaine (D) goes after former senator George Allen’s (R) “macaca” moment in a debate Wednesday.

Al Gore hits Gingrich on his change of heart on climate change. And Bill Clinton knocks his “food stamp president” line.

Bachmann’s book has sold just 3,000 copies in two weeks.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) endorses former colleague Pete Hoekstra in the Michigan Senate race.

Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman (R) shuns talk that he might run for Senate, without saying clearly that he won’t.


Explaining Elizabeth Warren’s appeal” — Reid Wilson, National Journal

Gingrich’s Unimpeachable Conservative Credential” — Nate Silver, New York Times

Democrats See a Two-Horse G.O.P. Race, Adding a Whip” — Jeff Zeleny and Jim Rutenberg, New York Times

Gingrich, Romney prepare for January collision” — Dan Balz, Amy Gardner and Philip Rucker, Washington Post


GOP hopefuls court Jewish support

On the Hill, partisanship is no longer taboo

FACT CHECKER: The ‘food-stamp president’?

THE FIX: Mormon question rears its head in Iowa