Bowl Game Could Impact GOP in Iowa

Will the Sugar Bowl impact the GOP Race?

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As if college football doesn't already generate enough controversy – between arguments about who should play in the championship bowl game to the recent child sexual abuse scandal at Penn State – it may impact the GOP presidential election. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's supporters are more likely to be college football fans than those of rivals Mitt Romney or Ron Paul, according to the latest NBC/Marist poll. Overall, about half of likely Iowa Republican caucus-goers say they avidly watch college football.

Strategists have long argued the key to winning Iowa is turning out supporters, so while the scheduling of the Sugar Bowl for Jan 3 on the same night as the Iowa caucus may only affect a few Iowans' decision on whether or not to participate, it could still make a difference.

Overall, Gingrich leads the GOP presidential field in Iowa, according to a pair of polls released over the weekend. The former House speaker tops rivals with support from 26 percent of likely caucus-goers, according to an NBC/Marist poll. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Rep. Ron Paul are nearly tied, garnering 18 percent and 17 percent support, respectively. A similar poll released by the Des Moines Register also showed Gingrich leading the race.

[Ron Paul lashes out at Donald Trump]

"As the roller coaster picks up speed in the month leading up to the Iowa caucus, Newt Gingrich has moved into the lead car," says Lee Miringoff, director of The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, in a news release. "Hold on tight for any further twists and turns."

The NBC/Marist poll surveyed 916 likely Republican caucus goers between November 27 and 29 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percent.

Gingrich's road to the GOP nomination has been buoyed by the exit of businessman Herman Cain on Saturday. Cain, who had lead polls at one point in the race, saw his support among conservatives erode over the last few weeks due to allegations of sexual harassment and a woman claiming a 13-year-long affair with the married former CEO of Godfather's Pizza.

[Herman Cain drops out of GOP race]

A similar poll in October showed Romney leading the pack with 26 percent support, followed by Cain with 20 percent, and Paul with 12 percent. Gingrich polled at 3 percent.

Still, the recent poll indicates the Republican field is anything but set. In addition to 9 percent of voters saying they are undecided, of those who named a candidate that they would support, 1 in 5 said they could still change their mind.

Email: rmetzler@usnews.com

Twitter: @rebekahmetzler