New NBC News/Marist polls in Iowa and New Hampshire released early Sunday show former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has surged in the two early states, though former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney still retains a healthy lead in New Hampshire. The polls also show President Obama running slightly stronger in the two swing states, with Romney and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, running stronger against the president than Gingrich and the rest of their GOP rivals.
In Iowa, the numbers largely mirror a Des Moines Register poll released Saturday evening: Gingrich leads the GOP field with the support of 26 percent of likely caucusgoers, followed by Romney at 18 percent. Paul is third, with 17 percent. Businessman Herman Cain, who suspended his presidential campaign on Saturday, is at 9 percent, tied with Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., and former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., are tied with 5 percent. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who is not actively campaigning in the Hawkeye State, is at 2 percent.
When Cain's supporters were re-allocated by their second choices, Gingrich led with 28 percent, followed by Romney and Paul, who were tied at 19 percent. Perry was third, with 10 percent.
In early October, Romney led the field with 26 percent. Cain was second, with 20 percent, while Gingrich was all the way back at 5 percent.
In New Hampshire, Romney still leads the first-in-the-nation primary, but Gingrich has surged into a clear second place. Thirty-nine percent of likely primary voters support Romney, ahead of 23 percent for Gingrich. Paul is third, at 16 percent, followed by Huntsman at 9 percent. All other candidates are at 3 percent or lower, including Cain.
But Romney's lead is more tenuous than the previous NBC News/Marist poll, in early October. In that survey, Romney was running away from the field, with 45 percent of the vote. Paul and Cain were tied for second, at 13 percent, and Gingrich had only 4 percent of the vote.
Meanwhile, the polls show a slight uptick in President Obama's fortunes -- though his approval rating remains underwater -- in the small swing states. Though the states combined will only award 10 electoral votes, they are considered crucial to Obama's reelection prospects.
In Iowa, just 43 percent of registered voters approve of the job Obama is doing as president, virtually identical to his 42-percent approval rating nearly two months ago. In matchups against the top GOP candidates, only Paul ties Obama, with each candidate at 42 percent. Obama leads Cain (50 percent to 32 percent), Gingrich (47 percent to 37 percent), Bachmann (54 percent to 31 percent), Romney (46 percent to 39 percent) and Perry (48 percent to 37 percent).
(The matchups were not asked of the same pool of registered voters. Roughly half of respondents were asked the matchups with Paul, Cain and Gingrich, while the other half were asked about Bachmann, Romney and Perry.)
In early October, Obama led Romney by just 3 points, and Perry by 9 points.
Obama is also running slightly better in New Hampshire, though he remains vulnerable in a state that both he and John Kerry won in the last two presidential elections. Just 40 percent of registered voters in the Granite State approve of the job Obama is doing, up slightly from 38 percent in early October.
Romney remains the strongest general-election candidate in the state, leading Obama, 46 percent to 43 percent, though that is down from a 9-point lead in early October. Obama leads Paul by just two points, 44 percent to 42 percent. Obama holds double-digit leads over the rest of the field, including Gingrich, whom he leads, 49 percent to 39 percent.
The Iowa poll was conducted Nov. 27-29, surveying 2,896 registered voters, for a margin of error of +/- 1.8 percent. The subsample of 425 likely GOP caucusgoers carries a margin of error of +/- 4.8 percent.
The New Hampshire poll was conducted Nov. 28-30, surveying 2,263 registered voters, for a margin of error of +/- 2.1 percent. There were 696 likely GOP primary voters, for a margin of error of +/- 3.7 percent.
In each state, the general-election matchups were asked of random subsamples of registered voters and carry higher margins of error.