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, huh? Too funny, even for GOPerville "Flavor of the Month" circus theater.
After going after Democrats, it turns out that Republicans actually like philandering clowns. Go figure.
All the conservative talk of family values, Christianity, and morality... As support for this vermin grows it's clear the GOP is about greed, fear, and bigotry. Old Newt knew all along none of the evil things he did would matter. THe knows from a lifetime of slimey political behavior that te money of the high-rollers who back the GOP can make the hate-radio and Tea Party fans believe the earth is flat. Why not? They now believe President Obama caused our recession!
If you folks think voting either republican or democrat will solve this goverments problems, you need to wake the hell up. The only thing that has a chance of fixing it, if it's not already too late, is to NOT vote for either party. We need a STRONG cadidate that doesn't claim either side!!!
The party of morals and family values being led by the man who cheated on his wife because she had cancer. My, how the mighty party has fallen.
Independants who "lean" toward the Republican or Democratic side aren't really Independants. They just like to label themselves "indies" for stupid polls such as this one.
Hey way to go Newt, thats like being the smartest kid with downsyndrome! Congratulations on your most recent accomplishment!!!
The more I see the Liberals on this site put newt down, the more I like him. Newt is far more intelligent than anyone else in the field, and he will beat obama like a drum in the general election. Obama will get destroyed in the debates against newt.
the only guy who is smart enough to actually have conversation with obama,is huntman.
the rest are just garbage
Gingrich is a total piece of shlt. Looks like Obama 2012.
Good going. He looks like a porker, he behaves like a porker, he must be a porker.
I am certainly glad that CNN has finally found out there are more than three GOP candadates in the race. Two months ago Newt couldn't even get his name mentioned for participating in the debates, now he is ahead of CNN's chosen one.
I just read that L'il Newtie wants to fire school janitorial staff and put kids to work sweeping and cleaning. My initial reaction is not printable. It was followed by a similar expletive.
Dickensian doesn't cut it. All the adjectives I can think of begin with the letter F. And I'd say them to his face.
He is probably the biggest idiot the rightwing has found thus far which explains his surge in the polls. Only that bloviating gasbag Limburger could have thought of something more absurd.
Please put him in there, losers!!!!!!!! Go Obama!
This is illustrative of just how pathetic this group of clowns really is.
There he is,a bible in one handmand a knif in the other
old newt,please go out to pasture
"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.
Well, tell you what, Newt, you're EXACTLY what I always thought you were, a morally challenged person, not fit to be Commander In Chief. Good luck on your book tours, dude. Hey, ever thought of going into lobbying? There's a fit!
It's now official: The GOP has finally broke the Goofy Meter.
So from the full poll the respondents were over 50 and from the south .. How many of the 402 polled were from Georga?
The newtster (aka the salamander) will soon be hibernating with the other failures. Jon Huntsman, its time to wake upand and take control, please.
"He turned me into a Newt!
I got betta."
I want the biggest baddest adulterating cheating lying SOB that knows how to manage the rest of the SWAMP dwellers. Thats Newt. That will do what is best for the USA across the world and someone who understands who we are as a country.
Newt Gingrich really???!!! This is why the American election is a joke.
For those of you saying the GOP is somehow struggling with picking a candidate, maybe you should look bck to the last democrat primaries. IT was a huge joke, and the selected the wrong person.
I don't want this man as president of anything! He and the rest of this party have a history of womanizing, arrogance, and condescending behavior toward women and poor people. I don't care what shape the country is in or what these fools promise to do to fix it if they get elected; they have pretty much said that we should forget about their treatment of women and poor people and just go with the flow. And therein is the problem...too many of us Republicans have just turned the other cheek in the name of money, arrogant obsession with "values" and "ideals" that don't amount to a hill of beans in the long run. I fell for it many many years, but no more. After really doing my homework, I now know that neither Democrats nor Republicans have my best interest at heart. If the rest of you would just open your eyes and stop turning a blind eye to what's really happening you'll see. You'll see what the money is coming from/going, where the real power and influence in this country lies, and why women and poor people are the lowest priority for both parties. No thanks!!