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Previewing Gingrich's Down Escalator

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Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich delivers a keynote speech at the Nevada Policy Research Institute's 16th anniversary dinner in Las Vegas, Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2007. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)  (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Watch out, Newt Gingrich, your rocket to the top of the Republican field may be running low on gas.

Give pollsters surveying the volatile field this year credit for consistency: Virtually every major polling firm has detected the same rises and falls of bygone front-runners Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Herman Cain.

And each pollster detected a similar bounce for Gingrich at the end of November. Polls conducted for NBC News by Marist, the Des Moines Register, ABC News and the Washington Post, CBS News and the New York Times and CNN and Time Magazine all showed Gingrich leaping to a lead over Mitt Romney and Ron Paul while Cain collapsed.

But there have been hints all along that Gingrich's support was soft. Pollsters at the University of Iowa, which conducted a week-long survey of 277 likely caucus-goers that ended last week, began to detect a Gingrich slide just after Cain dropped out of the race. Gingrich still led the field, taking 30 percent to Romney's 20 percent, but his support slipped dramatically in the final days during which the poll was conducted.

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