(CNN) - Newt Gingrich tops the field of Republican presidential candidates by double digits in three of the four states to first hold contests in the race for the GOP nomination, according to new surveys in those states.
The CNN/Time/ORC International Polls, released Wednesday, indicate that strong support from the tea party movement is contributing to the former House speaker's surge among likely Republican primary voters and caucus-goers. But the poll also suggests that this race is far from over, with less than half the people questioned in each state saying their minds are made up.
According to the poll, one-third of likely GOP caucus participants in Iowa say they are backing Gingrich. Thirteen points back, at 20% is former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who's making his second bid for his party's nomination. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who's making his third run for the presidency, is at 17%, with Texas Gov. Rick Perry at 9%, Rep. Michele Bachmann of neighboring Minnesota at 7%, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania at 5% and former Utah Gov. and former ambassador to China Jon Huntsman at 1%. Both Bachmann and Santorum have been crisscrossing Iowa.
Iowa's Jan. 3 caucuses kick off the presidential nomination contest, with New Hampshire's primary going second, one week later, on Jan. 10.
In New Hampshire, Romney remains the front-runner, but his once-large lead is shrinking. The poll indicates that 35% of likely Granite State GOP primary voters back Romney, with 26% supporting Gingrich and 17% backing Paul. Huntsman, who's been spending nearly all of his time campaigning in New Hampshire, is at 8%, with everyone else in the low single digits.
"Don't make the mistake of assuming this is a two-man race. Ron Paul is essentially tied with Romney for second place in Iowa, the first state out of the box, and has double-digit support in the next state on the calendar, New Hampshire," says Keating Holland, CNN Polling Director.
In South Carolina, the first southern state to vote and third overall, the poll indicates Gingrich far ahead of the field. Forty-three percent of likely GOP primary voters in the Palmetto State say they are backing Gingrich, with Romney a distant second at 20%, Perry at 8%, Bachmann and Paul each at 6%, Santorum at 4% and Huntsman at 1%.
It's the same story in Florida, the fourth statewide contest on the calendar. According to the poll, 48% of people likely to vote in Florida's Jan. 31 GOP primary say they support Gingrich, with Romney a distant second at 25%, Paul at 5% and everyone else in the low single digits.
So what's the secret to Gingrich's surge?
"In some states, Gingrich scores better among men, or older voters, or born-again Christians, but in other states those advantages disappear. But in each of the four states surveyed, Gingrich has a commanding lead among tea party supporters - by roughly 40 points in the two southern states and by smaller amounts in Iowa and New Hampshire," adds Holland. "Among likely GOP primary voters who are neutral toward the tea party or oppose it, Gingrich manages no better than a tie in most of those states and loses that group by 20 points to Romney in New Hampshire."
The CNN/Time/ORC poll is the third in the last day and a half to indicate that Gingrich is the front-runner in Iowa, and the second in the last day and a half to indicate he's the front-runner in South Carolina.
Gingrich's campaign was left for dead by many in late spring, after a bunch of controversies which resulted in a number of top advisers and staffers quitting the campaign. They also faced financial difficulties. But thanks to strong performances in many of the Republican presidential debates this autumn, and thanks to stumbles by Bachmann, Perry and businessman Herman Cain, who suspended his campaign this past weekend, Gingrich has soared in both national polling and in surveys in the crucial early voting states.
The challenge for Gingrich now is to use his skyrocketing poll numbers and increase in fundraising to quickly build a larger and more effective campaign structure in the early voting states. Gingrich went up with his first campaign TV commercial Monday, in Iowa.
The poll also indicates that even with start of the caucuses and primaries less than four weeks away, likely voters may still change their minds. Fifty-five percent of likely Iowa caucus goers and South Carolina primary voters say they may change their minds, with 53% of likely Florida primary voters and 48% of likely New Hampshire primary voters say their open to moving to another candidate.
"It's very important to keep in mind that these poll results are not - and cannot be - a prediction of the actual results to contests that are at least a month away. Most likely voters have not made up their minds in any of these states. Don't think the races are over in these four states - not by a long shot," says Holland.
The poll was conducted from Nov. 29-Dec 6, both before and after businessman Herman Cain suspended his bid for the GOP nomination. Herman Cain's name was included in the list of candidate until December 3, when he suspended his campaign. The results released today indicate the second choice of respondents who picked Cain as their first choice.
The poll was conducted for CNN and Time magazine by ORC International, with 419 likely Iowa GOP caucus goers, 507 likely New Hampshire Republican primary voters, 510 likely South Carolina GOP primary voters, and 446 likely Republican primary voters in Florida, questioned by telephone. The surveys sampling error is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.
The crazy old man Ron Paul now has a real chance to be elected. OMG. Get it together repubs, you are a joke.
"Gingrich front-runner in 3 of first 4 states to vote"
Further evidence that the gop and their faithful have no principles or convictions. When a known slime ball like gingrich is the cream of the crop, what does that say about the gop? Nothing good.
If a republican were to win this election, I would much rather have Ron Paul than any of these insane republicans.
How sad that so many republicans are backing a loser. Oh, wait a minute! Who else is there for them to choose from? God protect us from them all!
I like Ron Paul, but Gingrich is the only GOP candidate who can win a debate against Obama.
The only reason for Newt's popularity has to be hatred for the President and prejudice against Mormons. President Obama remains the only candidate I can stomach and I'm not too happy with him.
I would NEVER vote for Newt, period. He is corrupt and is NOT Presidential material and never will be.
Democrats are praying for a Gingrich victory. There's no one they'd rather Obama faced in the general election. The man just has too much baggage.
Gingrich is going to fall in the enxt week or two. No one is really enthusiastic about a flip flopper who even divorced one of his wives while she was dying in the hospital!
Ron Paul will win Iowa! People who do their research and think for themselves wont vote for a serial liar like Newt Gingrich.
Newt's the only one that is actually qualified by experience to run for President. Though we've had lots of Governor and Senator presidents, nothing prepares like already having run one of the three branches of government.
You are referring to the Very Ron Paul who signed Grover Norquist pledge.You Ron Paul supporters are priceless.Trustworthy my ass.
I like that, don't you!
Where is Bob Dole when you need him?
Gingrich versus Obama in a debate... priceless! Obama loses in total humiliation. Proved he is an empty suit to the whole world. I can hardly wait!!
We cannot nominate an old, fat , white , male!
I'm sick of the left accusing us of all being just that.
Ron Paul maybe old and white, but he has more of an independent character. The center will vote Ron Paul if we nominate him! He is the only viable candidate that could annihilate the Dems reelection.
The democrats have a monopoly on America's minorities. They brought down Cain.
Moving forward, we need many more republicans of many backroumds.
We need to stop propping up these establishment Newts!
I'm voting for Newt I'd he is the nominee. I have no issue with him . He is going to lose to the president if he is our nominee.
I want to win. All the candidates are good for the nation, but we need to elect a minority or a woman!
How come republicans do get THIS!!
really this group is the best you can send at Obama?
I just don't trust someone with the words Gin and Grinch in his name. That sounds like a dangerous combination of alcoholism and lack of holiday spirit. What happens when it comes Christmas time next year and he's president and he cancels Christmas? Mass chaos, that's what! Horror unending, that's what! And the next thing you know, zombies, zombies I say! Run! Run!!!
I really don't understand Newt's popularity among Tea Partiers, or any Republican, for that matter. He's a serial adulterer who has married not one, but two different mistresses, and what's worse, is that he has been disciplined by congress for ethics and tax violations. He's a cheat in all senses of the word. I don't understand why he isn't being laughed off the stage, or why he is even considered a viable candidate by anyone.
I can't vote for a guy that's been divorced three times to be my president. Don't get me wrong, I've been divorced myself – but this is the highest office in the land, and if he can't keep his own life in order, then I can't trust him to run the country. Hipocritical? Perhaps, but this is one time where the public has the right to hold their leaders to a higher standard.
Hot air rises!
Ron Paul is a joke and has zero chance of winning the GOP nomination.
Absolutely astounding. America is going down the drain and Romney is telling the Jews why he'd be better for Israel than Obama. I think there are much larger issues facing the country and much of the trouble America has in the Middle East is because of our continued support of Israel at the expense of a real peace process. Too many rich Jews polluting the political process with their money.
To all you Ron Paul people. You must really hate the federal government given the number of departments he would shut down.
EPA? NEA? Yeah, we don't need government to regulate business. Business is so good at regulating itself. Right?
I thought the Republican party was the party of "family values". To even contemplate the nomination of this vile man is incomprehensible.
My wife and I were watching CNN this morning when the newsreader announced the interviewees for today –
Ron Paul, Newt, Rick Perry, Michele Bachman, Donald Trump . . .
My waife said: "Wow, CNN must be doing a salute to Ringling Brothers Circus today – every big-name clown is going to be on today!"
We laughed until we cried . . .