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Newt's Reach

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Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks during a meeting with employees at Nationwide Insurance, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)  (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

What's the scariest news for Mitt Romney in the nearly mirror-image polls out today showing Newt Gingrich rocketing into the lead in Iowa, South Carolina and nationally?

The short answer: the breadth of Gingrich's support. In all three surveys, Gingrich is not only lapping Romney among the ideologically conservative and religiously devout voters who have resisted the former Massachusetts governor throughout the race; Gingrich is also running step for step (or ahead) with Romney among the less ideological, more secular, voters who have been Romney's base.

All of this is a big and ominous change for Romney. Earlier he had the luxury of watching the rivals to his right divide conservative voters while he made steady progress at consolidating the party's more managerial, less ideological wing. For a brief period in late summer, Texas Gov. Rick Perry threatened to reach across the divide - but his poor debate performances quickly deflated his standing with both groups. Now Gingrich, a much steadier (if still volatile) contender than Perry, is not only consolidating conservatives, but loosening Romney's hold on the more pragmatic and managerial components of the GOP coalition.

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