It remains a foregone conclusion that Mitt Romney is going to be the Republican Presidential nominee. The only problem is, the polls suggest something else, and there is no evidence to suggest any degree of momentum or support rallying the former Massachusetts governor.
What the polls show, increasingly, is that Newt Gingrich is solidifying his position as the anti-Romney, and in the last week, 3 national polls have come out showing that the former Georgia Congressman and Speaker of the House holds a 2-5 point lead in national Republican primary polls.
More specifically though, Gingrich is leading in a couple of Iowa polls, and in at least one New Hampshire poll has polled within a couple of points of Romney.
To be sure, most of the New Hampshire data shows Romney with a substantial lead, but New Hampshire would be the only state where Romney enjoys anything approaching a comfortable margin. And indeed, if the Iowa numbers which show Gingrich in the lead were to hold true on Caucus day, January 3rd, almost certainly it would provide momentum for Gingrich that would make New Hampshire competitive.
The South Carolina surveys show a commanding 14-15 point lead for Gingrich, and Florida is close to a statistical tie between Romney and Gingrich.
Moreover, Gingrich has recently positioned himself as a Tea Party conservative, and hence the alternative to Romney. But also, Gingrich is a fairly original thinker. He is somebody who improbably enough might even be able to get back toward the center on at least some issues in a general election against President Obama.
By speaking about the urgency of immigration reform, Gingrich took a position in the debate Tuesday night which can only benefit him going forward, should he be the nominee, recognizing the absurdity of the Republicans failure to come up with a path to citizenship for the 11 or 12 million people who are there illegally. And by reiterating that he supports the individual mandate on health insurance, Gingrich is in a position to offer an alternative to ObamaCare that is credible and reasonable as the campaign unfolds.
Gingrich is frankly the smartest, most creative and most thoughtful candidate running in any party. His lack of discipline and lack of focus should not obscure the fact that he has a unique sense of public opinion and a unique ability to communicate.
To be sure, Gingrich has baggage-- both political and personal. I've exploited him myself in the late 90s, but I also know him to be a shrewd and indeed brilliant tactician.
It would be premature to say that he will be the nominee or premature to suggest that he could beat President Obama, though the most recent presidential preference polls show him within 5-7 points of the incumbent.
What it is important to recognize is that Newt Gingrich is no Herman Cain, he is no Rick Perry, he is more than the flavor of the month. Even if his candidacy ultimately flames out, the Speaker has made a profound contribution already to campaign 2012 by his questioning of the role of debates, the media and the whole questioning process.
Speaker Gingrich has a huge amount to contribute, and writing him off now would be a profound mistake for commentators, the media, and most of all the Republican party.
Douglas E. Schoen is a political strategist and Fox News contributor. His most recent book is "Mad as Hell: How the Tea Party Movement is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System" published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins.