Conclusion: Newt Gingrich is now neck-and-neck with Mitt Romney for the Republican nomination for the Presidency. Currently, the ascent of Gingrich can only be read as positive for President Obama.
Well, actually, oh yes Newt did. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has gone from having his campaign close to disbanding, to becoming the clear challenger to Mitt Romney, to now becoming a legitimate front runner for the Republican nomination for President. According to InTrade, the gap between Romney and Gingrich is as narrow as it has ever been, at less than 6%, with Romney’s probability of getting the nomination at 42.4% and Gingrich at 37.0%.
As outlined in the chart above, the key recent catalyst was another strong performance by Gingrich in this weekend’s Republican debate in Iowa and a commensurately weak showing by Romney. The two areas where Romney disappointed this weekend were not in areas of policy, but more related to debate performance. The first occurred when Gingrich zinged Romney by saying that he would have been a career politician if he hadn’t lost to Ted Kennedy in 1994 and Romney stammered in his comeback. The second is highlighted in the clip below and came when Romney responded to a Rick Perry accusation about Romney’s book by saying that he would bet Perry $10,000 bucks that he was wrong. (This is roughly three months salary for caucus-goers in Iowa.)
In some of the early primary States, Gingrich is starting to open up a wide margin over Romney and the field. Based on the most recent polls, Gingrich is up +12.6 points in Iowa, Romney is up +11.7 in New Hampshire, Gingrich is up 19.3+ in South Carolina, and Gingrich is up 18.2 in Florida. These are the first four primaries and occur on January 3rd, January 10th, January 21st, and January 31st, respectively.
In the national polls, Gingrich has also overtaken Mitt Romney. In fact, as outlined in the chart below, Gingrich currently has the highest overall ranking of any Republican has had in the race at +32.8. Meanwhile, Romney is still in second place, albeit distantly with +20.8. Additionally, earlier today when asked by Politico whether Gingrich was the frontrunner, Romney responded affirmatively by saying, “He is right now.” Herman Cain is still running in third, although as new polls come out, that will obviously diminish as he has suspended his campaign. An endorsement of Gingrich by Cain could push Gingrich’s poll numbers even higher.
The area in which Gingrich looks much less favorable is versus Barack Obama. Gingrich has literally never outpolled Obama and currently trails him by +6.9 points. Conversely, Romney has outpolled Obama number of times and currently in the Real Clear Politics poll aggregate trails Obama by only +0.8 points, which is within the margin-of-error.
As we’ve stated a number of times, President Obama is far from defeated despite his low approval ratings and the dire status of the economy. The recent shift of Gingrich to front runner status is also beneficial to Obama. On a very basic level, it likely elongates the Republican race between Gingrich and Romney, which leaves the Republicans less time and energy to focus on Obama. Further, as outlined above, on a head-to-head basis Obama currently beats Gingrich soundly.
So, has Newt Gingrich shaken up the Republican nominating race? Oh yes he has, and this might just be to the benefit of the incumbent, President Obama.
Daryl G. Jones
Director of Research