The Return of Newt Gingrich?

Two polls put Newt Gingrich in third place, behind Mitt Romney and Herman Cain, among Republican voters. Could the former Speaker of the House really be this campaign’s comeback kid?

The Return of Newt Gingrich?

Political circles are absolutely atwitter about Herman Cain’s shockingly high poll numbers. But just as many are comparing the presidential candidate’s popularity to the Republican race’s big name flame outs, like Michele Bachmann, Donald Trump and Rick Perry. Cain’s star will fade soon, too, perhaps to be replaced by a so-called comeback kid, Newt Gingrich.

The former House Speaker’s entrance into the race in May came with plenty of fanfare. Gingrich has a history in Washington, led the 1994 Republican Revolution and the charge against Bill Clinton. But he also came with baggage: his own extramarital affairs, ethics investigations and his role in the 1995 government shutdown. Still, Gingrich had a brief moment in the sun, as people debated whether he could be a serious contender. The key word here is “brief.”

Gingrich fever broke its short-lived hold soon after the candidate described Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan as “right-wing engineering, his fundraising numbers slumped and key advisory and finance campaign staffers left en masse. Gingrich’s days seemed numbered. Even blaming the media didn’t help stem his campaign from hemorrhaging energy. But, wait! What’s that? Fickle Republican voters are turning the tides in Newt’s favor.

Two new polls put Gingrich solidly in third place behind Mitt Romney and Cain, and inching ahead of Rick Perry into double digits. From Public Policy Polling’s survey:

Herman Cain holds an identical 30-22 lead over Mitt Romney in the national standings. Newt Gingrich lags with 15% to Rick Perry’s 14%, Michele Bachmann’s and Ron Paul’s 5%, Jon Huntsman’s 2%, Rick Santorum’s 1%, and Gary Johnson’s less than 1%.

Rasmussen Reports also puts Gingrich in third: “The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of 1,000 Likely Republican Primary voters shows Cain and Romney each attracting 29% of the vote while Gingrich is a distant third at 10%.”

That report was conducted after the Republican debate, where Gingrich won fresh attention by suggesting Barney Frank and Chris Dodd be jailed for their finance reform work. But the PPP poll wrapped up on October 10th, before the debate. This means some Republicans were reconsidering their support prior to new press clippings.

And while PPP and Rasmussen diminished Gingrich’s standing — “lags” and “distant,” respectively — massively influential conservative newsman Matt Drudge made the Gingrich news his top story today, a sure fire way to reframe Gingrich’s candidacy.

Gingrich is thrilled by the polls, and Drudge’s shout out. Christian Heinze at GOP 12 points out that Gingrich tweeted the news, “Check out the Drudge Report! This race is just getting started.” And you can be sure he’ll soon describe himself as a “comeback kid,” a label Gingrich has been using since his campaign’s earliest days. But “comeback kid” may be a bit optimistic.

The Republican presidential race has produced a series of one-hit political wonders. Trump shot to the top. Bachmann did, too. And Perry had a nice go as frontrunner. Cain and perhaps Gingrich may well be the next big things, though likely not sustainable.

Polls are not reliable judges of electability, no. Herman Cain cannot win the White House, or even the Republican primary. Nor can Bachmann. But their popularity, however fleeting, deserves attention because it provides a view of what’s happening in voters’ minds, what qualities they want in a candidate.

So, what are the Republican numbers saying? That the GOP’s voters change their minds every time the wind blows, so this race’s fate is anyone’s guess. Maybe Rick Santorum will suddenly surge to the top of the heap, a disturbing thought.

The only real constant through the Republican presidential race has been Mitt Romney’s dominance. He’s now being referred to as “Mr. Inevitable.” We’ll have to wait and see what the really important numbers — caucus and primary votes — have to say about the Republican Party’s preference, but right now it looks like Gingrich, Perry and the race’s other brief stars may end up becoming Mr. Inevitable’s sad sidekicks, The Also-Rans.

Image via Gage Skidmore’s Flickr.