DES MOINES (Iowa) • Texas Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz has surged to a 10-point lead in a new poll of likely Republican caucus-goers in Iowa, a sign his campaign is gathering momentum and suggesting a long nomination fight is ahead.
Mr Donald Trump - who continues to lead most national polls - was second in the Iowa poll released last Saturday of those likely to attend the Republican caucuses there, with 21 per cent naming him as their first choice, compared with Mr Cruz's 31 per cent.
Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson tumbled to 13 per cent in the latest poll - commissioned by The Des Moines Register and Bloomberg Politics - after taking the lead in the October survey. Florida Senator Marco Rubio had 10 per cent. No other candidate had double-digit support.
Mr Cruz's great leap forward comes largely at the expense of Dr Carson, as Iowa's evangelicals appear to have picked the candidate they want to get behind. For Iowa's conservative voters, "the coalescing has begun", said Ms J. Ann Selzer, the founder of Selzer & Co, the West Des Moines-based firm that conducted the poll.
Ms Sarah Chappell, 34, a stay-at-home mother from Des Moines who is leaning towards caucusing for Mr Cruz, said: "He's very conservative and I agree with most of his views on the financial situation of our country and abortion and gay marriage."
The survey comes amid increasing hopes by Mr Trump that a win in Iowa, whose caucuses are less than eight weeks away, will be a lightning strike on his way to the nomination.
"If we win Iowa, I think we run the table," Mr Trump said last Friday at a rally in Des Moines. He is far ahead in polls of the other early-voting states.
But Mr Cruz's sudden momentum in Iowa complicates Mr Trump's plan. It could set up a protracted primary between Mr Cruz, as the choice of far-right Republicans, Mr Trump as an anti-establishment outsider, and perhaps a third candidate representing the centre-right of the party.
Long locked in a mutual non-aggression pact, Mr Cruz and Mr Trump have teetered on the brink of hostilities in recent days.
Mr Cruz privately told donors last week that Mr Trump had questionable judgment, according to an audio recording of his remarks. The comments came two days after Mr Trump proposed barring Muslims from entering the United States, as a way to combat terrorism. Mr Cruz said he disagreed, but did not criticise Mr Trump as others have.
In a series of Twitter posts after his "judgment" comments became public, Mr Cruz tried to play down any rift, while Mr Trump moved towards escalation. Mr Cruz wrote: "The Establishment's only hope: Trump & me in a cage match. Sorry to disappoint - @realDonaldTrump is terrific."
Mr Trump struck a different tone. "Looks like @tedcruz is getting ready to attack," he wrote.
"I am leading by so much he must. I hope so, he will fall like all others. Will be easy!"
NEW YORK TIMES, BLOOMBERG