GRINNELL, IOWA—It looks as though we can safely dismiss a Santorum surge or a Perry reboot. For Romney, the polls hang steady just under a week before the Iowa caucuses, according to Public Policy Polling. Ron Paul maintains his lead over Mitt Romney by a 24-20 margin, statistically unchanged from the 23-20 percent gap last week. But Newt Gingrich's support has disappeared. The former House Speaker held a lead in the Midwestern state two weeks ago, but has now dropped down to third place at 13 percent, only slightly above Michele Bachmann at 11 percent and the two Ricks at 10 percent.
In Gingrich's case, it's clear that his opponents' onslaught of negative comments—during stump speeches but also in TV ads attacking his characters—brought about his downfall. Gingrich's favorability was at 62 percent when he jumped to take the lead in PPP's Iowa survey at the beginning of the month, with just 31 percent of Republican voters disapproving of him at the time. Those numbers have now flipped: 37 percent hold positive views of him and a whopping 54 percent saying they have unfavorable views.
The social conservative candidates cluster together, just barely breaking into the double digits. But the poll shows that there is still a strong demand for a candidate who represents the religious right. If Bachmann, Perry, and Santorum were not splitting the evangelical vote, whichever candidate this constituency backed would be the clear front-runner. But unlike 2008—when Iowa conservatives coalesced around former Governor Mike Huckabee—the church crowd and Christian radio airwaves are divided this year. There's little time remaining before the nomination process begins in earnest. Unless one of the three evangelical candidates manages to move ahead of the pack over the final six days in Iowa, each of their campaigns will likely be over.
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