1. Newt Gingrich: 28 percent (up 13 points since October)
2. Herman Cain: 25 percent (down five points)
3. Mitt Romney: 18 percent (down four points)
Another poll, this one by CNN, offers at least a little better news for Mitt Romney. It shows him with 24 percent (down two points since October), Newt Gingrich with 22 percent (up 14 points), Herman Cain with 14 percent (down nine points), and Rick Perry sliding in with just 12 percent (down one point).
It’s likely that Gingrich’s unexpected surge in popularity has much to do with Cain’s recent sexual-harassment scandal. GOPers crazed for a win against President Barack Obama next year could be hesitant to back somebody who might be further hurt by shameful revelations in the press.
But Steve Benen of The Washington Monthly sees another dynamic at work, too, in this peculiar, volatile horse race:
Romney, despite being the clear favorite, just can’t figure out how to put some distance between himself and the rest of the Republican field. The Iowa caucuses are seven weeks from tomorrow, and the GOP frontrunner is seeing his support fall a little when he should be consolidating Republican support. Indeed, with Cain embarrassing himself, it stood to reason that some of his up-for-grabs supporters would settle for the former Massachusetts governor. Instead, they moved to the unlikable disgraced former House Speaker.Gingrich is just the latest not-Romney favorite in the field.
Romney is running against misfits, clowns, and con men, and Romney still can’t get to 30 percent. As Jon Chait recently noted, “I don’t see how Republicans could be making this any more plain. They do not want to nominate Mitt Romney.”
READ MORE: “Is Newt for Real?,” by Josh Marshall (TPM); “The Inevitable Nominee They All Can’t Stand,” by Steve Kornacki (Salon); “Newt Will Never, Ever Be GOP Nominee,” by Jonathan Bernstein (The Washington Post).