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The Last Temptation of Mitt The Last Temptation of Mitt

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The Last Temptation of Mitt

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Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney walks past photographers before talking with reporters outside Allentown Metal Works in Allentown, Pa., Thursday, June 30, 2011. (AP Photo/Rich Schultz)(AP Photo/Rich Schultz)

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's campaign has been worried about Iowa from the beginning. The Hawkeye State cost Romney real blood and treasure in his 2008 bid, and his team was wary of trying again after it became obvious his ceiling was so low.

Then again, a fractured field and disorganization among social conservatives presented Romney with a stark opportunity: Sneak away with a win in Iowa, and he could virtually lock up the nomination. Since 1980, when the modern Republican primary process began, no non-incumbent has won both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary; Romney appeared to have that opportunity (Here's another post I wrote on Romney's hopes in Iowa a few weeks ago).

So while he hasn't shown up in Iowa much this year, it's an open secret that Romney's team has been laying the groundwork for a surprisingly strong showing (Evidence: He's up with 885 gross ratings points this week in Des Moines). Keep the expectations low, the thinking has gone, and then spring the stunning victory that knocks the rest of the field out of contention and effectively sews up the nomination.

But if Romney's ceiling is somewhere around 25 percent, he might want to revisit that initial skepticism. All indications are that Newt Gingrich is uniting a significant portion of the Republican electorate; an ABC News/Washington Post poll out today shows Gingrich at 33 percent among likely caucus-goers, while Romney and Rep. Ron Paul are tied at 18 percent. That's a bigger lead than Gingrich enjoyed in a Des Moines Register poll (Gingrich 25 percent, Paul 18, Romney 16) and an NBC News/Marist poll (Gingrich 26, Romney 18, Paul 17) released over the weekend.

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