Newt Gingrich holds double-digit leads over the rest of the Republican presidential field in Iowa, South Carolina and Florida – three of the first four states that will vote in primaries or caucuses this January, according to a CNN-Time-ORC poll released on Wednesday.
In Iowa, Gingrich leads Mitt Romney 33 percent to 20 percent, in South Carolina he leads Romney 43 percent to 20 percent, and Gingrich performs best in Florida, where he leads Romney 48 percent to 25 percent.
Romney still leads the field in New Hampshire, where some say his time as governor of neighboring Massachusetts gives him a significant home-field advantage, although Gingrich is closing in there too. Romney leads Gingrich 35 percent to 26 percent in the Granite State.
In Iowa in particular, conventional wisdom holds that a strong ground organization is necessary to produce committed caucus-goers, and Gingrich is purportedly scrambling to beef up his operations in the early-voting state.
Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) came in third in the Iowa poll, only three points behind Romney with 17 percent. Closing out the field are Rick Perry with nine percent, Michele Bachmann at seven percent, Rick Santorum at five percent and Jon Huntsman at one percent.
The second state to vote is New Hampshire, where dark horse Hunstman has devoted all his resources. Following Romney at 35 percent are Gingrich at 25 percent, Paul at 17 percent and Huntsman at eight percent.
But Gingrich crushes the field in the southern states of South Carolina and Florida, leading by 23 percent in both. Gingrich benefits from overwhelming Tea Party support in those states, where the movement backs him by more than 40 points.
However, in a Republican nomination process that has seen Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and Donald Trump all spend time at the top of the polls, a lot could still change.
Fifty-five percent of voters in Iowa and South Carolina said they were open to changing their minds, while 53 percent of Florida voters and 48 percent of New Hampshire voters said the same.
The poll was conducted by telephone from Nov. 29 to Dec. 6
The margin of error for the Florida, New Hampshire and South Carolina polls is 4.5 percentage points and 5 points for the Iowa survey.