For days, there's been talk of a Newt Gingrich boomlet in the Republican presidential race here in Iowa. After Friday night's Reagan Dinner at Hy-Vee Hall in downtown Des Moines, that Gingrich boomlet talk might turn into talk of a Gingrich boom.
Five candidates -- Gingrich, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul -- addressed a crowd of about 1,000 GOP faithful at the state Republican party's biggest fundraiser of the year. In brief interviews after the dinner -- the only question was which speaker did the best job -- audience members were unanimous: Gingrich, Gingrich, Gingrich.
"It was Newt," said Chad Kleppe of Waukee, Iowa. "I think he's the smartest one in the field."
In a dozen interviews, the score was Gingrich 12, the rest of the field 0. That doesn't mean everyone will vote for Gingrich at the January 3 Iowa caucuses -- voters here reserve the right to hold off on making a final decision until the night of the voting -- but they certainly walked away impressed with the former House speaker.
Gingrich won the night in large part by doing one simple thing: He lavished praise on his fellow candidates.
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has gained ground in the 2012 presidential campaign. He registered 12 percent support in an ABC News-Washington Post poll out this morning.
This is the former House speaker’s first time out of the single digits in the poll. He was polling at around 6 or 7 percent before.
“Any progress is good progress,” spokesman R.C. Hammond said. “What we’re looking to do is continually march toward the caucus and put forth ideas and solutions.”
The poll put Gingrich almost even with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who was at 13 percent. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney stayed steady at 24 percent, and business executive Herman Cain saw an increase to 23 percent from 16 percent, despite his recent troubles.
If Cain's candidacy does implode in the coming weeks our numbers suggest the candidate poised to benefit the most is Newt Gingrich. In North Carolina he's the second choice of 29% of Cain voters, compared t0 16% for Romney, 15% for Perry, and 10% for Bachmann. In Maine he's the second choice of 26% of Cain voters to 17% for Romney and 15% for Perry.
It's no surprise that Gingrich would be the beneficiary of a Cain collapse, because Tea Party voters have been the foundation of Cain's surge and Newt polled second with that group of GOP loyalists on both of our polls over the weekend. In North Carolina 42% of Tea Partiers preferred Cain to 25% for Gingrich, 11% for Romney, and 10% for Perry. Gingrich's favorability with Tea Party voters there is 83/14 compared to 49/42 for Romney and 48/42 for Perry. In Maine 38% of Tea Partiers preferred Cain to 29% for Gingrich and 9% for Romney. There Gingrich's favorability with those voters is 75/19 to 53/36 for Romney and 35/47 for Perry. Tea Party voters like Gingrich far more than Romney and Perry so it stands to reason that if there is a Cain collapse, Newt will be the immediate beneficiary.