The latest CNN/Time/ORC surveys released this afternoon for New Hampshire, and especially Iowa, show that on the eve of the first actual voting, the GOP race is reverting to the pattern that has defined it for most of this year: the party's more pragmatic and secular circles are consolidating around Mitt Romney more than the GOP's more ideological and evangelical wings are consolidating around any single alternative to him.
That pattern isn't enough to place Romney in a commanding position - but it does offer him the possibility of a plurality advantage in a fragmented field. The surveys provide a snapshot of the nightmare for the conservative activists most resistant to the former Massachusetts governor: it raises the possibility that he could steamroll to the nomination without ever attracting majority support in the party because the ideological voters most resistant to him fail to ever coalesce behind a single alternative.
These dynamics are most apparent in the results of the new survey in Iowa, which polled 452 GOP likely caucus participants from December 21-24 and December 26-27. Overall the survey shows Romney now leading with 25 percent, followed by Ron Paul with 22 percent; Rick Santorum has surged into third place with 16 percent, followed by Newt Gingrich with just 14 percent. In the most recent CNN/Time/ORC poll from early December, Gingrich led with 33 percent, followed by Romney at 20 percent and Paul at 17 percent.