Poll: Front-runner Newt Gingrich's lead in early-voting Iowa has evaporated

Newt Gingrich’s onetime 9-point lead over the GOP field in Iowa is down to 1 point, and it’s Ron Paul who's breathing down his neck.

Gingrich is at 22 percent, according to a Public Policy Poll released on Tuesday. He’s followed by Paul at 21 percent, Mitt Romney at 16 percent, Michele Bachmann at 11 percent, Rick Perry at 9 percent, Rick Santorum at 8 percent, Jon Huntsman at 5 percent, and Gary Johnson at 1 percent.

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Gingrich’s favorability with Tea Party supporters plummeted this week from 35 percent to 24 percent, bringing his overall favorability down from 62 percent favorable versus 31 percent unfavorable, to only 52 percent favorable versus 40 percent unfavorable.

Paul’s favorability numbers meanwhile, were almost the inverse of Gingrich’s. The Texas lawmaker is now at 61 percent favorable versus 31 percent unfavorable, compared to last week when he was at 52 percent favorable and 38 percent unfavorable.

Since Gingrich’s surprising rise in the polls, Paul has trained his sights on the former House Speaker, accusing him in attack ads of “serial hypocrisy” and of “selling access” as a Washington insider.

The entire GOP field went after Gingrich at Saturday’s primary debate, criticizing him as a lifelong politician and for his multiple divorces — and voters seem to have taken notice.

Fifty-two percent of likely Iowa caucus-goers said they watched Saturday's debate, according to the survey.

Perhaps even more important than the poll numbers leading into the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses are the commitment levels of likely caucus-goers to their candidates. Conventional wisdom says a candidate needs a strong ground game in Iowa to turn out voters for the caucus-style voting, and here again, Paul leads the field.

Seventy-seven percent of Paul’s supporters say they are definitely gong to show up on election day to vote for him, while only 54 percent said the same of Gingrich. Romney also beats Gingrich in this category, with 67 percent of his supporters saying they will definitely show up.

Paul also leads among voters who say they have finalized their decision, taking 29 percent, compared to 21 percent for Gingrich and 18 percent for Romney.

Rick Perry, whose campaign has focused on the state’s Christian conservatives through his ads highlighting the “War on Christmas” and “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” remains unchanged at 9 percent. However, an American Research Group poll released this week showed him surging to 13 percent, up from 5 percent in November.

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In another bad sign for Romney, Public Policy Polling found that voters widely view Gingrich as the most electable candidate, with 30 percent, followed by Romney at 21 percent and Paul at 14 percent.

Iowa voters have historically come out strong for the more socially conservative candidates, which in part helped propel Mike Huckabee to a victory in the 2008 presidential contest. That might not hold true in this cycle, however, as Romney trails despite 39 percent saying he has stronger values, compared to Gingrich at 18 percent.