Paul leads in Iowa

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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Texas Rep. Ron Paul has surpassed former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich to take the lead in Iowa, according to the latest polling from Public Policy Polling (PPP).

With just over two weeks until the Iowa caucuses, Paul now leads the field with 23 percent of the vote. He is closely followed by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, while Gingrich has fallen behind to 14 percent. Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum are tied for fourth with 10 percent each.

The poll shows a stark downturn for Gingrich, who led the field with 22 percent in PPP’s last poll released early last week. Paul has held steady, gaining 2 percent over the week, and Romney has jumped up 4 percent. Romney received the endorsement of the Des Moines Register, Iowa’s largest newspaper, late Saturday night in the middle of the polling period.

The numbers suggest that the candidates could emerge from the Iowa caucus with no clear frontrunner, as there are a number of candidates who could come out near the top.

The barrage of attacks that Gingrich’s rivals have lobbed at him since his numbers began to surge appear to be taking their toll. Last week, 52 percent of Iowa caucus goers said they had a favorable opinion of the former House speaker, and just 40 percent had an unfavorable view. One week later, Gingrich is actually upside down, with 46 percent saying they have a favorable view and 47 percent saying they hold an unfavorable view.

A possible cause of this decline is that a plurality of Iowa voters believe Gingrich does not have strong principles. On the other hand, Romney — who has borne the brunt of the attacks for flip flopping this cycle — is seen as having strong principles by 50 percent of caucus goers, while just 31 percent say he does not. Seventy-three percent see Paul as having strong principles.

Asked to predict who would win the caucuses, Iowans still believe Gingrich is in contention. Twenty percent say he is going to win the caucuses, and 20 percent say Paul will win. Nineteen percent predicted Romney.

Poll numbers aside, Bachmann and Santorum are the most favorably viewed candidates in the field. Bachmann has an 18 percent net favorability, and Santorum has a 20 percent net favorability.

More and more caucus-goers are beginning to definitively make up their minds about who they will support. Last week, 60 percent of Iowa caucus goers said they were “strongly committed” to their first choice candidate, while 40 percent said they could still end up supporting someone else. Now, 63 percent say they are strongly committed, and 37 percent are still somewhat flexible.

The poll is based on a survey of 597 likely Republican caucus goers from December 16 through December 18. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

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