Newt Gingrich is riding a wave that has yet to show signs of cresting. And now one poll says that he's within striking distance of Mitt Romney in New Hampshire, the one state that Romney was thought to have locked down.
The poll, taken on behalf of the New Hampshire Journal, for GOP pollster Magellan, shows Gingrich and Romney in a statistical dead heat in support from likely primary voters, with Romney two percentage points in front of the surging former House speaker 29 % to 27 %
Magellan, a Republican pollster, conducted the poll using automated calls, which is considered to be less reliable than live interviews, but the results could serve to jolt Romney from any sense of security he may have had about a clear path in the Granite State.
(Just to keep some measure of perspective: a Bloomberg poll released earlier this week showed Romney with an overwhelming lead in New Hampshire at 40 %, with Ron Paul at 17 % and Gingrich back at 11 %.)
Still, there is little doubt that Gingrich, for the moment at least, is taking advantage of a hunger among some conservatives for an alternative to Romney. And as Herman Cain has faltered, Gingrich has filled the breach. Romney has stepped up his campaiging in the state, scheduling events Friday, and then through the weekend into Monday.
With Gingrich’s sudden ascension into the top tier has come new scrutiny into his work in the private sector. He spent much of week defending his past work as a consultant for federally backed mortgage giant Freddie Mac—a company he regularly lambasts in his campaign.
And while Gingrich has said that he blames Freddie in part for the collapse of the U.S. housing market, Politico reported Friday that Gingrich was on retainer to the company until it was taken over by the government in late 2008.
In addition, the Washington Post reported Friday that the healthcare policy think tank Gingrich formed raked in an estimated $37 million over the last eight years from healthcare companies and industry groups.
The Magellan poll found Gingrich to have a 59 % favorability rating among likely primary voters, nearly the same as Romney’s. The number is a huge reversal from August, when a similar Magellan poll showed just 29 % of respondents with a favorable view of the candidate.
Either Gingrich is doing something right—or the rest of the non-Romney field is doing everything wrong. When respondens in the new poll were asked to explain Gingrich’s rise, 44 % cited Gingrich’s depth of knowledge on the issues.