Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives and White House hopeful, has been considered a dead loss in the Republican field -- until now.
With just seven weeks to go until the state caucuses in Iowa (the first seat to select the Republican presidential candidate), the latest poll has put Gingrich in the lead with 28 per cent. This compares with 25 per cent for former businessman Herman Cain, 18 per cent for front-runner Mitt Romney, and 6 per cent for Rick Perry, the governor of Texas. A CNN poll released on Monday showed similar results, putting Gingrich just two points behind Romney, with 22 and 24 points respectively.
The sudden hike has come after both Cain and Perry appeared unable to remember their own policies in extraordinary gaffes. Cain, in particular, was already struggling after a series of sexual harassment allegations. All of this has apparently made Gingrich look like the only viable alternative to Romney -- the former Massachusetts governor who has failed to excite Republicans. Several pundits have suggested that Gingrich's sudden rise is due to an "anyone-but-Romney" mindset.
The televised debates -- the downfall of Michele Bachman, Perry, and Cain -- have allowed Gingrich to shine, mocking the press, refusing to attack other candidates, and (crucially) having a clear grasp of domestic and foreign policy. Generally, Republicans perceive Gingrich as the candidate who will most effectively take the fight to Obama in televised debates.
He's certainly an unlikely winner: he is the only Speaker of the House ever to be disciplined for ethics violations, and has admitted being unfaithful to two of his three wives. He also has a reputation for arrogance (so much so that New York Magazine has posted this excellent slideshow of Gingrich looking at people condescendingly). His high self-regard can be seen in his assessment of his own campaign:
Because I am much like Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, I'm such an unconventional political figure that you really need to design a unique campaign that fits the way I operate and what I'm trying to do.
While Gingrich is clearly confident, however, it's important not to read too much into this survey. As Mike Smithson points out at Political Betting, at this stage last year, Rudy Guiliani was way ahead in the polls, with the eventual winner, John McCain, trailing in third place.
The overwhelming impression from the polls remains that Republican voters are not particularly enthused about any candidate. "Things can change very rapidly," Gingrich said of his sudden turnaround in the polls at a campaign stop in Sheffield, Iowa. "In my case, a lot of news media said I was dead in June and July." In a race defined so far by gaffes and scandals, a lot could still happen between now and January.