Back in early October, after the CNN debate, we predicted that if Herman Cain fell it would be Newt's turn next to rise. Well, Cain has fallen hard and Gingrich is skyrocketing to the top of the polls. The former House Speaker is now leading most national polls and dominating the early state of Florida, where he is crushing Romney in the polls by 31 points.
One of the first polling outfits in the country to catch the Gingrich growth was Colorado's Magellan Strategies, headed by Dave Flaherty. A Magellan Strategies poll for the NH Journal in mid-November found Gingrich in a statistical dead heat with Romney in NH, a state that Romney had previously been dominating in polling and widely seen as a must win for the former Massachusetts Governor.
Since then, other pollsters have noticed the Gingrich rise, and it's not a good sign for what, only recently, seemed like an inevitable Romney nomination.
In an indication that Gingrich for President 2.0 is much savvier than the original Gingrich production that attacked conservative budget wunderkind Paul Ryan for his entitlement reform plan back in the spring, Gingrich has declared he intends on avoiding attacks on his opponents. That could make him a very dangerous opponent indeed.
In fact, Gingrich's strategy of blasting the press, praising his opponents and training most of his fire on Barack Obama is exactly the formula that got him where he is today.
After vicious GOP primaries around the country last year, and with conservatives nearly singularly focused on making Obama a one-term President, Gingrich may be tapping into a potent sentiment among primary voters.
It is this publicly announced strategy, along with Gingrich's near bottomless well of policy knowledge and ideas, that represents a particularly acute threat to Romney's prospects. Additionally, Gingrich is unlikely to fall prey to the mistakes the previous two surging primary contenders made.
Unlike Perry, Gingrich has never been known to lack for words. Gingrich is, after all, the candidate who has proposed seven, three-hour debates with Obama in the fall, as well as being the author of more books than any Presidential candidate in memory.
Unlike Cain, Gingrich is not a political neophyte on the national stage. Most of his personal foibles have been known for years, if not decades, making him less of a target for the press to dig up previously unknown dirt on.
Gingrich, though, does have plenty of vulnerabilities that could bring him down. He lacks much a campaign infrastructure, with his campaign just recently digging itself out of the debt it incurred during the near collapse of the campaign this past summer.
One of his biggest strengths — that he is the GOP's "Ideas Man" — is a double edged sword. While he has proposed plenty of truly unique and thought provoking policy ideas over the years, he has also proposed plenty that would not play well in the volley of a Presidential campaign back and forth.
For example, he recently proposed firing all but one janitor at schools in poor neighborhoods and hiring the school kids to clean the school instead under the direction of a head janitor. The idea was to give the kids ownership of their school and a means to earn money, but you don't have to guess how that will be played in a blistering series of TV ads to know it's a statement best not made in the heat of a competitive Presidential race.
That policy idea pretty well encapsulates the peril and promise of Gingrich's suddenly hot Presidential campaign. Primary voters are drawn to his instinct to think out of the box and propose solutions to problems without poll testing them first. But veteran political watchers note that Gingrich's lack of message discipline and willingness to throw out ideas without thinking through the political implications of them first is his biggest liability.
He has also proposed some ideas that will not play well in the GOP primary, such as sitting on a couch with the Wicked Witch of the West, Nancy Pelosi, in a TV ad to push for climate change legislation, or promoting the value of government backed entities like Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.
If the past is prologue, Newt's ideas could prove to be both the cause of his skyrocketing success as well as the source of his ultimate downfall. With the Iowa Caucus barely a month away, we won't have long to wait to find out.