Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has surged into the top spot a month before the Iowa caucuses, according to two new independent polls released over the weekend. And, a look inside the numbers suggests Gingrich’s ceiling in the Hawkeye State is high, suggesting he may well be stronger than even his current lead indicates.

Republican presidential hopeful and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich prepares to speak to overflow crowds at a Hilton Hotel on November 25, 2011 in Naples, Florida. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Look into the guts of each poll, however, and Gingrich’s strength is more fully revealed.

In the NBC/Marist poll, Gingrich’s leads Romney among self-dentified “conservative” caucus-goers by 14 points; among those who call themselves “very conservative,” Gingrich’s edge over Romney is three to one (29 percent to 10 percent).

Why is that significant? Because in presidential primaries and caucuses, “true believers” — the most ideologically driven voters in each party — are by far the most likely to turn out on what will almost certainly be a cold day in early January.

There are other internal numbers that bolster Gingrich.

In the Register poll, 43 percent of likely caucus-goers name the former House Speaker as either their first or second choice. And, Gingrich is the preferred alternative to businessman Herman Cain, who suspended his campaign on Saturday.(The Register poll was in the field before Cain’s suspension announcement.)

And, 54 percent of respondents in the NBC/Marist survey said that Gingrich would be acceptable as the Republican nominee for president while another 27 percent said they would find him acceptable with some reservations. Those numbers compare favorably to both Romney (46 percent acceptable/28 percent some reservations) and Paul (38 percent acceptable/34 percent reservations).

While the vast majority of internal data points to the fact that Gingrich is a stronger candidate in Iowa than even the horse race numbers suggest, there is also some evidence of where the former House speaker remains somewhat soft.

A strong majority — 56 percent — of likely caucus-goers said it was unacceptable for a candidate to have “earned millions of dollars advising Freddie Mac”.

Bloomberg News has reported that Gingrich was paid $1.6 million to advise the mortgage giant. The former speaker has downplayed the fees, insisting they were for long-term strategic advice.

But the NBC/Marist poll suggests that many Iowa Republicans who say they are for Gingrich don’t know about the payments and, if they were educated, might feel differently about his candidacy. You can bet someone — the pro-Romney super PAC perhaps? — will ensure that voters know about Gingrich’s Freddie Mac ties before Jan. 3.

The other, non-Gingrich-specific factor that could lead to his Iowa demise is that voters in the state remain remarkably uncertain of which candidate they will ultimately end up supporting.

Six in 10 respondents in the Register poll said they could change their mind between now and the caucuses, a remarkable number that serves as a reminder of the fluidity of the field.

Viewed broadly, however, the two new Iowa polls provide lots (and lots) of good news for Gingrich. If he has another four weeks like his last four weeks on the campaign trail — never a sure thing — he will almost certainly solidify his status as the frontrunner in Iowa.

Gingirch’s first ad: Speaking of Gingrich and Iowa, the candidate is up with his first ad of the presidential race — a 60-second spot that will run in the Hawkeye State.

The ad is a positive one in which Gingrich says better days are ahead for Americans.

“Yes, working together, we can and will rebuild the America we love,” Gingrich says in what almost feels more like a public service announcement than a campaign ad. The Post’s Philip Rucker compares its tone to Reagan’s 1984 “Morning in America” ad.

Rucker also reports the ad buy is $250,000.

Meanwhile, AP reports that Gingrich is also making a big push in South Carolina.

Gingrich explains himself on global warming: Gingrich said at a forum Saturday that his decision to team with then-House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on a global warming initiative was the “the dumbest single thing I’ve done in the last few years.”

Gingrich appeared in a 2007 ad with Pelosi urging Congress to adopt cap and trade legislation — a position that is a total non-starter for the conservative base these days.

Gingrich was speaking at a Fox News forum with the nations’ attorneys general and Mike Huckabee, along with five other candidates.

If you missed the forum, here’s the entire thing.


Gingrich appears to be the favorite for a Cain endorsement.

Actual Paul quote: “I like to think of myself as the flavor of the decade.”

In an interview with Parade Magazine, Romney says people who aren’t financially secure or have young children shouldn’t be in politics.

Romney and Gingrich are calling for the firing of the U.S. ambassador to Belgium, after his remarks on anti-Semitism.

Some Democrats fear a general election matchup between Gingrich and President Obama.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), a member of the Class of 1994, won’t be backing Gingrich . And Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) isn’t impressed either.

Former senator John Danforth (R-Mo.) says the GOP presidential field is “embarassing.”

The Minnesota Republican Party has hit a rough patch.

Paul joins Jon Huntsman in skipping Donald Trump’s debate.


Mitt Romney die-hards: A rare 2012 breed” — Emily Schultheis and Ben Smith, Politico

Will the new Newt Gingrich have staying power?” — Andy Sullivan, Reuters

GOP rivals hope Herman Cain’s demise will reinvigorate their struggling campaign for president” — AP

Chelsea Clinton, Living Up to the Family Name” — Amy Chozik, New York Times

How Safe Is Gingrich’s Lead in Iowa?” — Nate Silver, New York Times

Herman Cain’s exit gives him financial flexibility” — Dan Eggen and Felicia Sonmez, Washington Post

The five obstacles Gingrich must overcome to win GOP nomination” — Bob Cusack, The Hill