Hear the audio version here (segments older than 3 weeks may be unavailable)
One of the questions the pundits were asking a few months ago was whether there would be some new challenger enter the Republican primary race that would contend with Mitt Romney for the nomination, given that none of the other competitors seemed to be doing it. That was before the rise and fall of Herman Cain and now the rise of Newt Gingrich.
Now the conventional wisdom is that the race has entered a new phase: one that pits Mitt Romney against Newt Gingrich. Conservatives who are leery about them both are going to have to choose, we're being told. Maybe not.
According to some very interesting polling data that's coming out of Iowa, there could be another Republican candidate who surges just in time for the primary battles - something that would be more appropriately called a "re-surge:" Rick Perry.
When I had Cokie Roberts on my radio show a month or so ago, it was in the midst of the Cain surge. I asked her whether she thought Cain was sustainable and whether he would be the alternative conservatives looked to in an effort to avoid voting for Mitt. She said she expected him to fade. I pushed her and asked her whether she thought that meant that Mitt was the nominee and her response was probably startling and surprising to folks then: "Don't lose sight of Perry, he'll be back."
According to this new information, she may be right:
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whom some pundits had written off as the GOP's nominee, may find a second coming in Iowa, if new poll data holds up. As Mitt Romney's campaign has suffered a startling decline in recent weeks, only to see Newt Gingrich eclipse the former Massachusetts governor's front-runner status, the battle for the Iowa caucuses set for Jan. 3 has become a wide-open race.
New survey data prepared for the Perry campaign and shared by a source close within the campaign shows that the Texas governor may be poised to do much better in next month's Iowa caucuses than earlier polls predicted.
The new survey by the Austin, Texas-based Baselice & Associates firm shows Perry firmly in third place with 13 percent ? trailing Gingrich's 29 percent and Romney, who tallied 19 percent. The poll was conducted Dec. 3-4.
But the internal polling data shows that Perry's "strongly positive" rating has jumped 6 points since the firm's previous Iowa survey, just three weeks ago.
And, significantly, Perry's positive rating among likely Iowa caucus-goers is at commanding 67 percent. And a stellar 71 percent view him positively after having viewed one of his commercials. Other numbers that suggest a potential rise: Perry stands at 78 percent positive among self-identified tea party members, according to the survey.
But he also enjoys strong among Iowa's undecided voters, at 71 percent. One of the poll's most interesting findings: 67 percent of respondents overall ? and a whopping 75 percent who are leaning toward former House Speaker Gingrich ? state that they still may change their minds. That finding suggests that, with just a few weeks to go before the caucuses, the Iowa electorate remains very fluid.
Perry's spending quite a bit of money in Iowa, and it may just be paying off. There's no questioning the fact that among the three (Romney, Gingrich, Perry), the Texas Governor will probably be the least objectionable to staunch conservative voters. But he is also the least polished. How will that shake out? It remains to be seen. But this much we know: it's still a long time before the first caucus and the first primary. Shoot, by then we might be talking about Palin's late entry and surge! (Okay, sorry for teasing so many of you who are probably really wishing that would happen.)