A national poll released Tuesday shows surging former House Speaker Newt Gingrich now at the front of the pack, with Mitt Romney running second.
Mr. Gingrich received 26 percent, while Mr. Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, received 22 percent, according to the new Quinnipiac University poll of more than 2,500 registered voters. The survey also found that businessman Herman Cain's support has fallen off significantly since earlier this month, dropping from 30 percent to 14 percent. Texas Rep. Ron Paul and Texas Gov. Rick Perry were tied in a distant fourth place with 6 percent.
"When it comes to the Republican horse race, the scenario hasn't changed much over the past few months — just the players," said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "Speaker Newt Gingrich is the latest GOP contender to rise to the top, powered by conservatives who remain skeptical about Gov. Mitt Romney."
The two Republicans will share the stage tonight in Washington, D.C. for the second debate focusing on foreign policy and national security this month. The debate is the tenth since the summer for the GOP field.
The survey results also highlighted some potential problems for Mr. Gingrich. While he outperformed Mr. Romney when it comes to leadership, experience and foreign policy, the former Massachusetts governor received significantly higher scores when voters were asked who has "a strong moral character."
Mr. Gingrich has been dogged by his personal life during his political career. He's been married three times and has admitted to past incidents of marital infidelity.
Mr. Romney also came the closest to defeating President Obama in a head-to-head match up, and those surveyed said he has a better chance than Mr. Gingrich on both defeating Mr. Obama and becoming the GOP presidential nominee.
"The question for Gingrich, as was the case for U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, Gov. Rick Perry and Herman Cain, is whether he is just the flavor of the month or whether he can sustain his meteoric rise," Mr. Brown said. "Gingrich's strength with the Republican electorate is the perception of competence, while he needs to deal with questions about personal qualities. He is fighting the problem, especially among non-Republicans, as our mothers told us growing up, that is very difficult to have a second chance to make a first impression."
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