Washington (CNN) - Newt Gingrich tops the list in the race for the GOP nomination, according to a new national survey.
And a CNN/ORC International Poll released on the eve of a CNN presidential debate focusing heavily on national security and foreign affairs also indicates Republicans consider the former House Speaker the most qualified GOP candidate to be Commander-in-Chief.
See full results (PDF)
Programming note: GOP presidential candidates face off at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday, November 22, in the CNN Republican National Security Debate in Washington, D.C.
According to the survey, 24% of Republicans and independent voters who lean towards the GOP say they are most likely to support Gingrich for their party's nomination, with 20% saying they back Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who is making his second bid for the presidency.
Gingrich's four point margin over Romney is within the survey's sampling error. A CNN poll released one week ago had Romney at 24% and Gingrich at 22%. Gingrich was at just 8% in a CNN poll in October.
Gingrich's campaign was left for dead by many in May and June, following a number of controversies that spurred some of his top advisers and staffers quit, and that left the campaign coffers in the red.
But the former House Speaker has performed well in 10 major GOP presidential debates held this year, acting as the elder statesman while many of his rivals for the nomination attacked each other.
"I entered this race with a huge amount of background story, some public, some private, which led people initially to think, 'Well, I'm not sure I want him.' And part of what the debates have done is they've been able to see me without editing, and, therefore, they've been able to say, 'Gee, that's not the guy I thought he was,' " Gingrich recently told CNN's Piers Morgan.
"It seems likely that Gingrich's performance in past debates has helped him - 43% say he is the Republican candidate who best understands complex issues, more than double the number who say that about Romney," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.
Gingrich gets another chance to shine Tuesday, when he along with seven of his GOP rivals face off in a CNN presidential debate on national security, foreign policy and the economy. CNN is teaming up with the Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute, two long time Republican-leaning think thanks, to put on the debate, which is being held just a few blocks from the White House.
According to the survey, on national security issues, 36% of Republicans say Gingrich is most qualified to be commander-in-chief - 16 points higher than Romney.
Former Godfather's Pizza CEO and radio talk show host Herman Cain garners support from 17% of the Republicans surveyed. Cain was at 25% support in CNN polling last month, but slipped after a controversy over sexual harassment allegations from his time as head of the National Restaurant Association during the late 1990s.
Rick Perry is at 11% in the new poll. The Texas governor soared to frontrunner status soon after he entered the race in mid-August, but thanks to stumbles in the debates this autumn, Perry's numbers dropped and are now holding steady in the low double digits. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who is making his third run for the White House, is at 9%, Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota is at 5%, with former Sen. Rick Santorum at 3% and former Utah Gov. and former ambassador to China Jon Huntsman at 3%.
While Gingrich has some major strengths, the poll indicates he also has some weaknesses. Only 9% of Republicans say he is the most likable candidate. Republican voters also don't think he's the best choice for getting the economy moving again, and they see Romney, not Gingrich, as the Republican with the best chance of beating President Barack Obama next November.
Gingrich is the latest GOP candidate to surge in national and state surveys, following Bachmann, Perry and Cain. Bachmann and Perry slid after their initial surges, and Cain may be headed in the same direction.
"But don't think that Gingrich has risen in the polls simply because other alternatives to Romney have fizzled," adds Holland. "The number of Republicans who would be pleased or enthusiastic if he won the party's nomination has grown from 51% in May to 70% now - not the kind of numbers you would expect if voters were 'settling' for Gingrich."
Although he is no longer at the top of the list, Romney is viewed as the most likable candidate, and the one most likely to get the economy moving again. And significantly, by a two-to-one margin, Republicans say Romney is the candidate with the best chance to beat Obama.
Although many Republicans are clearly looking for an alternative to Romney, they don't oppose him. Only 28% say they would be displeased or upset if Romney won the GOP nod.
The poll also indicates that the race is far from over: Only 27% of Republicans say they have definitely made up their minds.
The CNN poll was conducted by ORC International from November 18-20, with 1,019 adult Americans, including 402 Republicans and independents who lean towards the GOP, questioned by telephone. The survey's sampling error for Republican primary questions is plus or minus five percentage points.
Newt's kindred spirit is Tom DeLay. That tells you the whole story. Their unseemly alliance was an acid burn on the history of the the Congress, from which we haven't recovered. Brethren in corruption. Newt and Tom. A love story for the ages.
Come on people; don’t be bamboozled by the democratic masses and media juggernauts. What they are doing is typical political persuasion. Avoid listening to what the media has to say about each candidate and research for yourself the backgrounds of each candidate. The media juggernauts have already made up their minds who they want to be the GOP candidate. They will try their best to influence your decision for their benefit. They started off with Romney, Perry, Bachmann, Huntsman, Cain and now Gingrich. Within two weeks, the media will have you believing that Ron Paul will be leading the polls. The democrats and the media will do whatever they can to lead voters away from the candidate they fear the most and that is Mitt Romney. This is all planed out strategically based off who the democrats think has the best chances of beating Obama.
It’s reassuring to know that, in spite of all the chaos, and division in our nation, even a sadistic old crank like Newt can have a shot at being President of the United States.
I hope the GOP nominates him. I don't think he stands a snowball's chance of being elected.
Clap clap. Clap clap. Let's meet back in 2016. 2012 is a guaranteed Democratic victory.
I don't want a president named "NEWT". If his parents don't take him seriously, neither will I.
Go gop!!please tear this country apart brick by brick from within. Thank u lord. Thank Jesus. We deserve it and more. I hope mitt fuc us up good.
Oh, lol, now I understand why these numbers don't make any sense.
He'd make a great Commander-in-Chief! Look at the raid he pulled off leaving his dying wife on her deathbed (check it out, it's true!). Very Stalin-esque.
Im in for RomneyGingrich ticket. That pathetic socialist Oblamer must go!
This field of GOP candidates clearly leave a lot to be desired. What remains true is the superiority of conservatism versus liberalism. Despite very flawed republican politicians, they still trounced democrats in the last cycle. If I'm a democrat my number one fear is a capable republican politician. Even the incapable ones seem to win. Conservative ideas are simply better, and resonate with more Americans.
oh COME ON....we must be able to do better than this. Newt if a classic example of a sociopath.....his longstanding record of the past 20 years is not just that of a lying politician...he goes well beyond that while also knowing that he's inflicting pain and suffering on people stuck at the bottom and through absolutely no fault of their own.
We have to do better than Newt....we can't possible have a sociopath with his finger on the button.
People with fat heads and beady little eyes don't get elected president..
if Newt is more than a flavor of the month.. then Mitt is going to run the most negative campaign you have ever seen... After being a 2 time loser, Mitt wants that nomination more than anything else in the world. He has enough cash to run smear campaigns in 50 states.. dont think he wont do it..