In Iowa: Paul, Romney, Santorum, Gingrich

Iowa remains dynamic. Paul retains a slight lead over Romney in my standard trend estimate. Santorum’s surge is quite sharp and across multiple polls, giving strong credence to this latest of GOP candidates to suddenly surge. And the previous surging candidate, Newt Gingrich, has now fallen to 4th place in Iowa, only a half a percentage point ahead of Rick Perry.

The red “sensitive tend” thinks it sees a hint that Paul has peaked, but the evidence is quite tenuous. The four post-Christmas polls put Paul at 22, 24, 17, 22 while Romney reads 25, 20, 17, 23. You have to have a lot of faith in the polling precision to think this represents a convincing shift.

On the other hand, the Santorum surge is powerful and convincing: 16, 10, 13, 16, far above his pre-Christmas levels. His sudden ascent to third place makes him competitive for “exceeding expectations” by quite a margin. It has taken a long time, and tryouts with virtually every alternative (save Huntsman, really) but Santorum’s natural affinity with social conservatives in Iowa seems to be paying off here in the end.

While Paul still stands in first place, the concentrated criticism of him over the last week may yet pull him back from his peak of support in Iowa. If so, Santorum might still have a shot at second place, assuming no reversal of Romney’s current upward trend. Certainly all three could finish near 20%, with the order of finish still up for grabs.

After taking a tsunami of negative ads, Gingrich seems headed for 4th or conceivably lower. I wonder if there are late ad buys shifting ads to Paul from Gingrich.