Seventeen years after he shocked Washington by ending the Democrats' lock on the House, Newt Gingrich is poised for yet another improbable victory by taking the GOP presidential nomination.
The ex-speaker is now viewed by most Republicans nationally as the man with the right answers to the country's problems, according to the latest IBD/TIPP poll, beating out the former front-runner, ex-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
On the key question of who can best revive the economy and jobs, Romney beats Gingrich, 18%-16%, among all adults. But this is the GOP primary and among the voters that really count, Gingrich leads 35-22%.
This is striking given that Romney has campaigned mainly on his experience as a businessman and corporate turnaround artist.
Gingrich also bests Romney among Republican voters on the question of who can best handle the federal budget and taxes, 38%-19%; health care, 37%-18%; and foreign policy, 49%-13%.
"On the four issues we tested, the average advantage for Gingrich over Romney is 19 points," said Raghavan Mayur, president of TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence, which conducted the Dec. 4-11 poll of 909 adults.
Romney beats Gingrich among independents on some key issues like the economy (19%-12%) and health care (15%-13%), but not by much. He ties with Gingrich at 14% on the budget and loses, 24%-8%, on foreign policy.
Texas Rep. Ron Paul ranks third in each category among Republicans. He is weakest on foreign poli cy, where just 4% back him, likely reflecting his anti-war views.
Gingrich's rise is all the more impressive considering his stumbling entry. In May, he criticized the budget plan of Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., angering many Republicans. By June, most of his campaign staff had quit.
That follows a career of bombastic remarks, gaffes and personal problems for the twice-divorced candidate that led many to write him off. But Gingrich persevered and gained the lead largely due to his debate performances.
But the poll shows considerable discontent with the GOP field. About a quarter of Republicans answered "don't know," "not sure" or "other" to the various questions, indicating many votes are still up for grabs.
The poll also indicates that President Obama's support is stabilizing. A plurality opposes his re- election, but by just 48%-47%. It's 48%-43% among independents. But that's much better than in November, when they opposed a second Obama term 56%-35%.
December's IBD/TIPP Presidential Leadership Index rose 4.5% to 48.3, the best since June.