Gingrich has big leads in 3 of 4 early voting states

CBS

Newt Gingrich has opened large leads in three of the first four primary states, according to a new poll by CNN/Time/ORC Poll.

The survey, which polled 446 registered Republicans between November 29 and December 6, 2011, shows the former House Speaker with double-digit leads over Mitt Romney in Iowa, South Carolina and Florida in what increasingly looks like a two-man race.

In Iowa, the first-in-the-nation voting state, Gingrich leads Romney by 13 percent, with 33 percent to the former Massachusetts governor's 20 percent. Ron Paul follows with 17 percent. A CBS News/New York Times poll released Tuesday showed Gingrich leading Romney 31 percent to 17 percent in the state.

And Gingrich opens up his edge over Romney significantly in both South Carolina and Florida: In South Carolina, the third state to vote, Gingrich leads Romney 43 percent to 20 percent. Texas Governor Rick Perry follows with 8 percent, and Michele Bachmann trails him with six percent.

In Florida, which votes fourth, Gingrich earned 48 percent to Romney's 25 percent - with Ron Paul placing third with only five percent support. (Bachmann, Huntsman and Perry tied at three percent, while Santorum and "someone else" tied at one percent. Three percent said "none/no one" and seven percent said they had "no opinion.")

Even in New Hampshire - a Romney stronghold - Gingrich appears to be closing in on his rival, earning 26 percent to Romney's 35. Paul clocked in at third place in the Granite state with 17 percent support, and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who is banking on a strong performance there, earned eight percent.

Even while Gingrich appears to be shoring up his frontrunner status, the poll suggests that voters' minds aren't necessarily made up: In Florida, 53 percent of registered Republicans said they could conceivably switch allegiances; in Iowa and South Carolina, 55 percent said the same thing. In New Hampshire, 48 percent of respondents said they might yet change their minds.

And there is still room for Gingrich to stumble. Many political observers are awaiting a misstep from the gaffe-prone candidate, whose long career in politics creates no shortage of potential material. Plus, the candidate has enjoyed his frontrunner status for a relatively brief time yet, which means his rivals have had little incentive to try to take him down - until now.

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