Poll: Romney leads in Iowa; Santorum jumps to third place

Mitt Romney edged out Ron Paul for first place in a new poll of likely Iowa Republican caucus-goers, but it was Rick Santorum who made a huge jump, coming in third.

Romney earned 25 percent while Paul took 22 percent in the poll, which was conducted by ORC International for CNN and Time magazine, released Wednesday.

ADVERTISEMENT
In an unexpected shake-up, Santorum jumped ahead of Newt Gingrich to third place, taking 16 percent. Gingrich came in fourth with 14 percent, followed by Rick Perry with 11 percent, Michele Bachmann with 9 percent and Jon Huntsman with 1 percent.

Santorum has trailed the GOP presidential front-runners for most of the year but earned several surprise nods from influential Iowa conservatives this month. His leap in the polls comes less than a week before the Jan. 3 caucuses. 

"I'm very encouraged by it," Santorum said, responding to the poll on CNN's "The Situation Room."

"We've always felt like we can trust the people of Iowa," he continued.

Santorum promised his campaign would "continue to work hard" in Iowa. He's done 357 town-hall meetings, visiting all 99 counties in Iowa during this campaign. "We feel we're best prepared having people on the ground who've met me," he said.

Santorum said Tuesday he would drop out of the race if he came in last in the caucus, but he pointed out Wednesday that his campaign is "moving in the other direction."

Evangelical voters, who are the biggest voting bloc in the contest, have yet to coalesce around a candidate. Santorum said Tuesday that he, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry are fighting for that group of voters.

A top-three finish in Iowa, where Santorum has staked his campaign, would be a major boost for the former Pennsylvania senator.

Meanwhile, Gingrich's support in the state, which put him in the lead just a month ago, has steadily eroded over December. 

The poll also produced results in New Hampshire, where Romney retains the lead with 44 percent, trailed by Paul at 17 percent and Gingrich at 16 percent. The rest of the candidates round out the results with Huntsman at 9 percent, Santorum at 4 percent, Bachmann at 3 percent and Perry at 2 percent.

Huntsman has staked his campaign on doing well in New Hampshire. He is not competing in Iowa.

The ORC poll was conducted over the holiday from Dec. 21-27.

Paul held the lead with 24 percent in the Hawkeye State in a Public Policy Poll also released Wednesday and conducted post-Christmas.

— This story was last updated at 4:47 p.m.