Poll: Gingrich opens up nine-point lead after Union-Leader endorsement

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But Gingrich is also rallying independents, garnering 32 percent of likely voters who do not affiliate with a party. Among independents, Romney actually trails Paul, who pulls 17 percent of the vote to Romney's 16 percent.

Further boosting the Gingrich campaign is the knowledge that much of Cain's support comes from Democrats that the polling firm believes will cross over to vote in open primaries. Cain was the choice of 36 percent of Democrats — more than double any other Republican nominee — suggesting that his poll numbers might be nationally inflated and that conservatives truly are coalescing around Gingrich.

Still, the former Speaker faces a tough road to the nomination. A rocky start to his campaign means that he has been playing catch-up in Iowa, hiring his first paid staffers and opening two offices in the state earlier this month. Traditionally, the caucuses have favored candidates who have engaged in retail politics and spent generously in the state, meaning Gingrich will have to account for conservative defections to candidates like Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.), Paul and former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.).

New Hampshire will offer a similar challenge — while the Union Leader endorsement undoubtedly will provide Gingrich with life in the first-in-the-nation primary, Romney continues to dominate Granite State polls. The former Massachusetts governor also leads in the all-important cash race, and so far has been frugal, debuting his first campaign ad just last week.

Still, the Gingrich camp can't help but be encouraged by recent polling showing its candidate creating wider separation from the rest of the GOP field.