The first batch of post-Christmas polling is out from Iowa and Ron Paul now holds a lead over Mitt Romney.
In the latest search for someone other than Mitt Romney to nominate, Public Policy Polling has Iowa voters giving Paul a 24-20% edge. Newt Gingrich is in third place at 13% followed by Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum.
What's remarkable is the closeness of the pack behind Paul and Romney. Any of those three candidates could come in third place next week, which would give them some momentum heading into New Hampshire and South Carolina. If one or two of them drop out after Iowa, the "not Mitt Romney" forces could coalesce behind the remainder and give them a boost in South Carolina. That could cause problems for Romney, especially if he fails to dominate in New Hampshire.
Back to the Iowa data for a moment...
Paul continues to have much more passionate support than Romney. 77% of his voters are firmly committed to him, compared to 71% for Romney. Among voters who say their minds are completely made up Paul's lead expands to 7 points at 28-21. If Paul's lead holds on through next Tuesday it appears he'll have won this on the ground- 26% of voters think he's run the strongest campaign in the state to 18% for Bachmann and 10% for Santorum with just 5% bestowing that designation to Romney. There's also an increasing sense that Paul will indeed win the state- 29% think he'll emerge victorious with 15% picking Romney and no one else in double digits.
Although Romney's support has held steady at 20% over the last week his favorability numbers have taken a hit, something that could keep him from moving into first place over the final week. He was at +9 (49/40) but has dipped now into negative territory at -3 (44/47). Additionally Romney is the second choice of only 10% of voters, barely better than Paul's 9%. It's certainly still close enough that he could win, but there's nothing within the numbers this week to suggest that he should win. One of Romney's biggest problems continues to be his inability to hold onto his 2008 voters. Only 48% of them are still with him.