DES MOINES -- Ever since Newt Gingrich's strong surge in Republican presidential polls, both here in Iowa and nationwide, GOP insiders have carefully watched for signs that Gingrich, like Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain before him, might begin to fade in popularity.
There are indications -- early indications -- that is happening now, with the Iowa caucuses less than three weeks away. "I don't know if I'd call it slippage yet, but there's no doubt, I think, people are pausing now," says influential Iowa social conservative leader Bob vander Plaats. "I'm sensing a pause. I'd call it a due-diligence pause. I think a Ron Paul commercial that is blistering Gingrich has had an impact, where people are at least going to pause."
"I would agree with 'pause,'" says a well-connected Iowa politico who is not aligned with any campaign. "I don't see a moving away from him and going to any other candidate yet, but when you look at the number that continually pops up in surveys, with anywhere between 60 percent and two-thirds of caucus-goers saying they could be persuaded to change their minds by January 3, I think they are taking another look at Gingrich."
"People are saying OK, let's reassess this," the insider continues. "Is this really a decision we want to make? What I'm hearing is thinking about the general election and the unpredictable nature of him as our nominee. I don't have any empirical data to back it up, but it's just a feeling I've gotten in the last 24 hours."
"I think it's happening," says a third uncommitted Iowa politico. "His support has definitely stopped going up and is probably going down."
In addition, talks with voters in various parts of Iowa suggest that, while Gingrich's support is still strong, even his fans are not ready to fully commit to him -- a hesitation that accounts for what the insiders call the current "pause."
Some recent polls have indicated slippage in Gingrich's position in Iowa. After surveys by ABC, CNN, and CBS showed Gingrich's support in the low-30 percent range -- as much as 20 points ahead of rival Mitt Romney -- two newer polls by PPP and Insider Advantage have put Gingrich at 22 and 27 percent, respectively, with a far smaller lead over Romney. Those appear to be clear drops for Gingrich, but it should be said that experts have doubts about both polls. For one thing, they showed the far-back Jon Huntsman with five and four percent support, respectively -- far more than other surveys. "I just don't know where those people exist," says one insider of the alleged Huntsman supporters.
Nevertheless, Republican operatives see some fading in Gingrich's support. They don't attribute it to anything Gingrich has done, although there are questions about whether the former House Speaker might have hurt himself by getting into a bickering match with Romney in New Hampshire earlier this week. Instead, most attribute the "pause" to a harshly critical anti-Gingrich ad being run by rival candidate Ron Paul, as well as other anti-Gingrich radio and TV spots run by other campaigns.
Nationally, some polls have noticed movement away from Gingrich. A new Gallup tracking survey puts Gingrich's support at 31 percent, down from 37 percent in the same Gallup poll a week ago. A new Reuters polls shows Gingrich's support at 28 percent, to Romney's 18 percent.