With countless polls now showing Newt Gingrich leading nationally and in the key states of Iowa and South Carolina, the Romney campaign has found itself in a very defensive position. According to the RealClearPolitics average of polling in Iowa and South Carolina, Gingrich leads in those states by 8.2% and 8.6% respectively. The only strong point for Romney right now is New Hampshire, where he leads on average by 16.6%.

With Herman Cain currently reassessing his campaign over new allegations of a long-running affair, the spotlight has turned to the Romney/Gingrich battle. If Cain were to drop out of the race, and I am not convinced he’s going to, it would lead to a major reshuffling of the deck where I see Newt Gingrich coming out on top. Romney will not take many of Cain’s supporters since, if they were supporting Cain, chances are they were not ready to accept Romney as the nominee.

Report from the Washington Post:

“Is there enough time for Gingrich to self-destruct on his own before Jan. 3, or do you have to help it along? It’s a tough call,” said a GOP strategist who informally advises Romney’s campaign and, like other advisers interviewed, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal thinking.

Romney’s strategists are gaming out scenarios. They say they understand the risk that, in a multi-candidate field, any attack they make against Gingrich could boomerang to hurt Romney and help a third candidate.

Taking on Gingrich is “going to be a process,” one adviser said. “It’s not going to be an overnight kind of a thing, unless he steps in it. But he seems less likely than the others to do that.”

At a time when Romney intended to be showing momentum and closing the deal with voters, his campaign has sometimes been on the defensive. The candidate appeared rattled in a Fox News interview Tuesday when he was pressed by host Bret Baier to explain his changing positions on some issues.

“Bret, I don’t know how many hundred times I’ve said this, too. This is an unusual interview,” a visibly agitated Romney said, as he wiggled in his seat, crossed his legs and forced a laugh. “Ha, ha, ha, ha. Let’s do it again.”

In that same interview, Romney hinted that he now sees Gingrich as a threat. Prompted by Baier, he launched his first attack on his rival, labeling Gingrich “a lifelong politician” and suggesting that he lacks credibility on the economy.

The bad news for Romney is that Gingrich has essentially already been through his implosion(s) back in the spring time and over the summer. He has emerged from those turbulent days and redeemed his candidacy through debating.

One thing to watch is whether the “nice guy” approach Gingrich has been employing, with regard to questions about his GOP counterparts, will stick or whether he will begin going on the offensive against Romney.

Iowa still shows a close race where either Romney, Gingrich, Paul or even Cain could still eek out a victory.