For weeks, Ron Paul has been jousting in the polls with Mitt Romney for second place in the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses. But a new poll has the libertarian congressman "surging" to within one point of sagging GOP frontrunner Newt Gingrich. Worse for Gingrich, the new PPP poll shows that the former House speaker's popularity in Iowa has plummeted from a net +31 favorability rating to +12, while Paul has shot from +14 to +30. Paul has been pummeling Gingrich with hard-hitting TV ads and has the type of grassroots organization that typically does well in Iowa. Is quirky Ron Paul really the new Hawkeye State favorite?

Paul is on the cusp of a big upset: Gingrich's lead in Iowa "is like a house of cards," says Timothy Carney at The Washington Examiner. If it collapses, due to a misstep or change in political winds, Paul will be the tallest non-Romney left standing. And Newt's support is soft. It's hard to imagine Gingrich's tepid fans braving a frigid January night en masse for an hour-plus caucus. But "you can bet $10,000 that Ron Paul's supporters will turn out" in droves.
"If Newt trips, Paul could steal Iowa"

The Iowa race is fluid, but Newt is the frontrunner: The race for Iowa "looks to be fairly wide open," and Paul is one of "five plausible winners," says Nate Silver at The New York Times. But three weeks out, our statistical model shows Gingrich with a 49.6 percent chance of taking Iowa, versus 28.2 percent for Paul. Those odds could change, and Paul does have some momentum, but the polls suggest the Texan has a pretty steep hill to climb to overtake Newt.
"A first Iowa forecast: Race is still wide open"

Paul might well win Iowa, but what then? "Paul is widely regarded as the best organized candidate in the state," while Gingrich is the least-prepared, says Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post. So Paul really might win what's shaping up to be a "Newt vs. Ron" contest in the Hawkeye State. But if the Texan pulls off the upset, the real victor is Mitt Romney. Paul isn't competitive in many other states, and if Newt loses Iowa, Mitt would likely win New Hampshire and cruise to the GOP nomination.
"Ron Paul is Mitt Romney's best (Iowa) friend"

So what's a Tea Partier to do? Iowa poses a real dilemma for small-government conservatives, says Ross Douthat in The New York Times. Paul is "the kind of conservative that Tea Partiers want to believe themselves to be." But is it better to help Romney with an honor-saving "protest vote" for Paul, or sink Romney by backing a "Nancy Pelosi-snuggling Washington insider" like Newt — and let "every liberal who ever sneered at the Tea Party... say 'I told you so'"?
"Ron Paul rising"