Newt Gingrich's surge in the GOP presidential primary extends to the delegate-rich, but late in the calendar, state of California, according to a new Field Poll released early Wednesday. The poll shows the former House speaker in a virtual tie with Mitt Romney for the top spot among Golden State Republicans, typically a more moderate breed.
Romney leads the GOP field with 26 percent, according to the poll, followed closely by Gingrich, with 23 percent. That is well within the poll's margin of error of +/- 5.7 percent.
No other candidate earns double-digit support. Embattled businessman Herman Cain is at 9 percent, followed by Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, with 5 percent.
In September, Romney was first with 30 percent, compared with 22 percent for Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Now, Perry is mired near the bottom of the pack, with just 3 percent of the vote. Gingrich has risen from a 7 percent showing in September.
Gingrich is performing strongly among the most conservative Republicans, along with older voters. He earns the support of 31 percent of those who describe themselves as "strongly conservative," compared with 29 percent for Romney. But among GOP voters who describe themselves as less conservative, Romney leads Gingrich, 24 percent to 17 percent.
Gingrich also leads Romney among Republican voters aged 50 or older, 31 percent to 28 percent. Among GOP voters under 50, Romney is ahead, 25 percent to 15 percent.
Gingrich's image among California Republicans has improved dramatically since September. Now, 55 percent say they have a favorable impression of Gingrich, compared with 22 percent who have an unfavorable opinion. In September, just 34 percent of GOP voters said they had a favorable impression of Gingrich, and 45 percent had an unfavorable opinion.
Romney's image remains overwhelmingly positive: 59 percent of Republicans have a favorable impression of the former Massachusetts governor, while 21 percent have an unfavorable opinion.
The poll was conducted Nov. 15-27 among 330 registered Republicans. California will hold its presidential primary on June 5.