Earlier today we highlighted a Politico piece documenting the feeling among conservative detractors of Mitt Romney that the former Massachusetts Governor's nomination was beginning to feel inevitable. While it made a convincing case that Romney's path was getting easier by the day, nothing is for sure in American politics. As a reader pointed out, one need not look farther than the 2008 primary to realize that polls in November do not an electoral result make.
A good example of the ability for this primary to be turned on its head is the rapid rise of Newt Gingrich in the polls. A national PPP poll out today blared from the headlines of the Drudge Report that Newt is now on top. The poll has the former House Speaker at 28% to Herman Cain's 25% and Romney lagging back in third at 18%. Every other candidate was mired in single digits.
The caveat to all national polling is that the GOP primary process is not a national election, but has always been decided by the early states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. To translate national support into electoral victory, a campaign has to engage in the grind of organizing in these three states. While Rudy Giuliani led many national polls in 2007 his campaign was never able to turn that into support from Iowa Caucus-goers, or, in the end, New Hampshire primary voters.
The problem for Cain and Gingrich is that their campaigns have had virtually no serious presence on the ground, with staff defections driving most of the process stories for their campaigns in the Hawkeye and Granite states.
That may be changing, and quick.
Both Gingrich and Cain have seen an explosion in fundraising in recent weeks, with Cain's campaign announcing it has raised an eye-popping $9 million from grassroots donations since October 1. Gingrich has seen a similar growth in campaign cash, which is allowing him the ability to hire the staff necessary to do the organizing required of primary campaigns that want to win votes, and not just polls or debates.
Gingrich saw his campaign implode earlier this year when he attacked conservative budget guru Paul Ryan for his entitlement reform plan. But a series of strong debate performances have caused GOP voters to give him a second look. As we said about his CNBC debate performance, Gingrich is able to run circles around other candidates when it comes to understanding and explaining complex public policy topics. That makes him a formidable candidate.
While Perry's "oops" moment has caused many conservative commentators, like Michelle Malkin, to suggest he might not be ready for primetime, you can rest assured Gingrich will never lack for words. He loves to pontificate to such a degree that he has proposed seven, three-hour debates with Barack Obama should he become the nominee.
There is a reason he is known as the Republican Party's "Ideas Man." He was the architect of the 1994 "Contract With America" and has been the author of literally dozens of books on a multitude of policy topics and historical figures.
With that serious, adult-in-the-room persona, voters are likely to give him a long and sustained second look.
Conservative primary voters have made clear year in and year out that they do not like being told who to vote for. The aura of inevitability can often harm Republican primary candidates, with the electorate specifically refusing to endorse the candidate who seems to have it in the bag.
We wonder whether Gingrich's rise is merely the latest anti-Romney boomlet, or a suggestion that the rumors of Romney's acclamation are exaggerated.
Soon enough we will know.