Cain exit sparks Gingrich poll surge in Republican race for the White House

Former House Speaker now leads favourite Romney in key states

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Newt Gingrich, whose career seemed dead and buried just weeks ago, has capitalised on Herman Cain's exit to establish a huge lead in the early voting states that could decide the Republican White House race.

A poll in The Washington Post yesterday put him 15 points ahead of Mitt Romney, the nominal front-runner whose victory has been seen as a given by political analysts.

Mr Gingrich has similarly large leads in two of the other three states that hold presidential primaries next month and is steadily closing the gap in the fourth – Mr Romney's once-impregnable stronghold of New Hampshire.

The stunning rise of the former House Speaker has banished any chance that the demise of Mr Cain, who effectively ended his bid at the weekend, would see support reluctantly rally around Mr Romney.

Instead, Mr Gingrich has seized the momentum in Iowa ahead of the January 3 caucus that kicks off the primary season.

The Washington Post/ABC poll gave him 33 per cent support among likely caucus voters in Iowa, with Mr Romney and Texas congressman Ron Paul both on 18 per cent.

Mr Gingrich has a similar 15-point lead in South Carolina, where Texas governor Rick Perry is third.

In Florida, where Mr Cain was strong, Mr Gingrich has a 25-point gap on Mr Romney, while the latter's once-massive lead in New Hampshire has been halved to around 15 points.

Moreover, Mr Gringrich may soon be endorsed by Mr Cain, a friend and fellow Georgian.

The turnaround in his fortunes reflects not just activists' dissatisfaction with Mr Romney but also a string of solid debate performances in which the veteran Washington politician has shown fluency on the issues and much less arrogance than in the past.

His priorities have changed as well. With his support now soaring, Mr Gingrich now needs the money and organisation to match.

On Monday he was not in Iowa or New Hampshire but in Manhattan for fundraisers with wealthy donors, and the now obligatory call on Donald Trump – mogul, reality TV host, and seeming svengali of Republican presidential politics.

That last function appals several party strategists, who note that Mr Trump – a leader of the "birther" campaign against Barack Obama and who has talked about his own White House bid – will return to the limelight when he hosts a candidates' debate days before Iowa votes.

Ari Fleischer, a former George W Bush spokesman, called the debate "an invitation to a circus".

Karl Rove, the former President's long-term adviser, was irate. Calling for the debate to be scrapped, he demanded: "What the heck are Republican candidates doing?"

The immediate question, however, is whether Mr Gingrich will outlast Michelle Bachmann, Mr Perry and Mr Cain before him, who each briefly soared to the top of the polls as the "anti-Romney" candidate before coming to grief.

Many observers predict the former Speaker will self-destruct as he has done not infrequently in his long and controversy-studded career. This time though, Mr Gingrich is projecting himself as an elder statesman.

His first TV adverts in Iowa are notably non-partisan, with a soothing, "morning-again-in-America" tone reminiscent of Ronald Reagan three decades ago.

Romney's $100,000 bid for secrecy unveiled

The Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney spent nearly $100,000 in state funds to replace computers in his office at the end of his term as governor of Massachusetts in 2007 as part of an effort to keep his records secret.

The move was legal but unusual, officials said. The effort to purge the records was made a few months before Mr Romney launched an unsuccessful campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008.

He is again competing for the party's nomination, but his position as frontrunner has been whittled away in the polls. Reuters