Ron Paul Takes Lead in Iowa Caucus Poll

In a crowded field, Texas congressman takes lead.

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Texas Rep. Ron Paul is leading his GOP rivals in Iowa, according to the latest poll. The 12-term congressman, widely thought to have the most comprehensive and best ground game in the first-in-the-nation-caucus state, has steadily built support over the last few weeks and benefited from a slide in the popularity of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich's support has dropped from 27 percent to 14 percent over the last two weeks, according to a memo written by Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling.

PPP places Paul first in the latest survey, garnering 23 percent support, followed by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney with 20 percent, and Gingrich with 14. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum are all tied at 10 percent support, according to the poll.

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The poll surveyed 597 likely Republican caucus-goers from December 16-18 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.

The success of Gingrich, a front-runner who has seen support erode following attacks levied by rivals, had led pundits to question the importance of so-called retail politics in the digital age. Gingrich, who has risen to the top of the field rather late in the contest, lacks the large, motivated team of volunteers that conventional wisdom says is essential to win the Iowa caucus. But Jensen said the poll results may indicate that boots on the ground are likely still an important factor.

"Paul's ascendancy is a sign that perhaps campaigns do matter at least a little, in a year where there has been a lot of discussion about whether they still do in Iowa," he said. "22 percent of voters think he's run the best campaign in the state compared to only 8 percent for Gingrich and 5 percent for Romney. The only other candidate to hit double digits on that question is Bachmann at 19 percent."

The poll showed negative ads and debate attacks on Gingrich have damaged him.

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"Negative ads over the last few weeks have really chipped away at Gingrich's image as being a strong conservative," Jensen said. "Now only 36 percent of voters believe that he has 'strong principles,' while 43 percent think he does not."

Along with Paul, Romney also saw a bump up in support, from 16 percent last week to 20 percent most recently.

With the caucus about two weeks away, there are no more scheduled debates before voters cast their ballots. This leaves candidates hoping to make a run in the wide-open contest having to decide how much time and money they want to spend in Iowa get to the finish line.