Could Romney Be Knocked Out?

I posted the results of the FLA poll yesterday, showing Newt Gingrich with an enormous lead. A new Iowa poll released by the Des Moines Register also shows a surging Gingrich leading the pack at 25%, followed by Ron Paul at 18%, and Mitt Romney at 16%. Not only has Gingrich surged into the lead, but Romney has dropped 6% from his standing last month. There is no question that Romney is the best organized and best financed candidate, but there is something happening out there. The Register poll had Herman Cain at 8%, tied with Michelle Bachmann. Rick Perry and Rick Santorum both had 6%, and Jon Huntsman at 2% was bringing up the rear.

A significant aspect of the Register poll is the question of “second choice”. Gingrich was the first or second choice of 43% of the respondents, showing some real growth potential. And with Herman Cain bowing out Gingrich stands to benefit from a likely migration of some Cain voters. (Cain is set to endorse Gingrich, according to unconfirmed reports, tomorrow.) As of today you have to say that Gingrich is poised to win Iowa. Can he win Iowa even without any real organization to speak of? Republican strategist Mike Murphy raises some doubts in the Register.

Gingrich has been “a one-man band just standing onstage and pontificating,” Republican strategist Mike Murphy said. “On caucus night, can you convoy and get people there?”

It is a great question, and one that Gingrich chose to answer himself when all of his consultants quit on him. He said he wanted to run a different type of campaign, free of consultants (and their tedious demands that the candidate actually do some work)and embark on a cerebral exercise where his futuristic ideas for campaigns would win the day. Maybe Rick Perry should fire all his consultants. But I digress.

In the first survey taken after the Manchester Union Leader endorsed Newt Gingrich Rasmussen has Gingrich closing to within 10% of Romney, with Mitt at 34% and Newt at 24%. That survey had Ron Paul at 14%, and Jon Huntsman at 11%. That puts Gingrich within striking distance, with the Union Leader likely to commence a pounding of Romney that can only help Gingrich further close the gap.

In South Carolina Gingrich is leading Romney by a wide margin, at 38% to 15%, with Herman Cain at 13%. Unless Gingrich blows himself up (I know it is very possible) he should win South Carolina in a walk.

So the question I pose is this. If Gingrich runs the table on the first four contests (Iowa, NH, S.C. and FLA) will that knock Romney from the race? It certainly would provide Gingrich with a monster amount of momentum that could very well be hard to stop. I posed the question to Meet the Press panelist and Republican strategist Mike Murphy via Twitter. His response:

delegate numbers will be small but Newt would be in strong position. Unless he melted down in Feb, where process slows a bit.

I get the feeling that Murphy expects a meltdown from Gingrich at some point, and I understand that the delegate numbers would not dictate a Romney exit. But momentum in politics can be a strange thing, and Gingrich would have to be considered a heavy favorite if he wins all four of those contests. I would have to say that this is not where Romney thought he would be at this stage of the race. I don’t think that hoping that another opponent blows himself up constitutes a cogent campaign strategy. He had better win New Hampshire, or I think that Mitt Romney could be down for the count.

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