Texas Rep. Ron Paul has surged to second place in a new Iowa poll of likely Republican caucus goers, just one percent behind former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the current front-runner.
Paul has consistently placed in the top tier of Republican presidential candidates in recent Iowa polls. With Iowans heading to vote in only three weeks, Gingrich holds a razor-thin 22–21 lead.
The poll, conducted by Public Policy Polling, found weakening support for Gingrich among self-identified tea partiers, and a dramatic rise in Paul’s favorability rating.
“There are a lot of parallels between Paul’s strength in Iowa and Barack Obama’s in 2008 — he’s doing well with new voters, young voters, and non-Republican voters,” said PPP in an explanation of its poll’s findings.
Paul has taken aim at Gingrich with an ad alleging “serial hypocrisy” for changing his positions on a variety of issues, including health care and global warming. The ad also targeted him for accepting millions from Freddie Mac, and for calling a budget proposal from Wisconsin GOP Rep. Paul Ryan “right-wing social engineering.”
Gingrich’s favorability rating has declined 19 points among Iowans since last week.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney placed third in the poll, at 16 percent. He was followed by Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann at 11 percent, Texas Gov. Rick Perry at 9 percent, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum at 8 percent and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman at 5 percent.
Like Paul, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson has attracted support for his libertarian policy positions. But he polled at only one percent. (SEE ALSO: Gingrich leads, but Paul most likely to beat Obama in latest Iowa poll)
Political commentators have predicted that Ron Paul can win in Iowa because of his supporters’ unusual dedication and enthusiasm. The PPP poll found that 77 percent of Paul supporters say they are definitely going to vote for him, compared to only 54 percent of Gingrich supporters.
University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato explained to The Daily Caller in November that Paul could win in Iowa ”as long as four or five candidates remain strong and in the contest.”
In a mid-November Bloomberg poll, Paul placed at 19 percent in Iowa, in a four-way statistical tie with Gingrich, Romney and businessman Herman Cain — who has since left the race in the wake of a string of allegations of sexual misbehavior.
In early November, pollster John Zogby predicted that if Cain exited the race, his supporters could help buoy Paul’s numbers since so many Cain devotees identified as libertarians. “Anti-government libertarians are running out of candidates to support,” he observed. (RELATED: Iowa presents a path to the nomination for Ron Paul)
If Paul does win in Iowa, he could enter the New Hampshire primary with significant momentum. In most polls in the Granite State, Paul places third behind Gingrich and Romney.