Is Rudy Leading in the Early States?

The conventional wisdom is that Mitt Romney is the favorite in Iowa and New Hampshire, and that he hopes to build momentum by winning those states, while Rudy Giuliani is looking beyond the early states in hopes of winning Florida and the big states that are up for grabs on February 5.

Today, the Giuliani campaign is touting a new ARG poll actually showing Giuliani with thin leads in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. A few cautionary notes. When I say “thin leads,” I mean it. In the polls, Giuliani is only up one point over Romney in Iowa and New Hampshire, and one point over Fred Thompson in South Carolina. Also, most of the polls I have seen have shown Romney with comfortable leads in Iowa and New Hampshire, and until I see more polls, I’ll still consider him the frontrunner in those states.

With that said, if these ARG poll numbers get replicated in other polls, it will represent a major problem for Romney. Given that he consistently has weak showings nationally, the only justification for him being considered in the top tier is his strength in the early states. He has spent millions on television ads introducing himself to voters there, and Romney’s supporters have pointed to his movement in the polls as an example of what happens when people get to know Romney. But Giuliani just started placing radio ads in Iowa and New Hampshire this month, and he finds himself in the lead in both states. Compared with last month, Giuliani has gone up four points in Iowa (so has McCain), while Romney, who had made gains every month since February, dropped four points from where he was in June. In New Hampshire, meanwhile, Giuliani surged eight points since the last poll.

I’ll be watching closely for more Iowa and New Hampshire polls, and if any Romney supporters believe there’s a reason why the ARG poll should be discounted, let me know.

UPDATE: Jonathan Martin has video of Donna Sytek, Romney’s New Hampshire co-chair, saying it is “cloudy” whether Romney would win in the general election.