12/28/2011 04:16 pm ET Updated Dec 28, 2011

Mitt Romney Takes Iowa Lead In New CNN Poll

CLINTON, Iowa -- A new poll of Iowa voters shows former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney surging to the lead in the Hawkeye State as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich plummets and former Sen. Rick Santorum finally catches some momentum.

Romney leads in the CNN poll of 452 Republicans who are likely to caucus on Jan. 3, with 25 percent, ahead of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), who is in second with 22 percent.

The poll was conducted by CNN from Dec. 21 to 27. Both Romney and Paul's numbers have improved over the previous poll, conducted by CNN in the first week of December. In that poll, Romney had the support of 20 percent of respondents, and Paul had the support of 17 percent.

Santorum shows up in third place, making a big jump to 16 percent, up from just 5 percent in CNN's previous poll.

Gingrich has fallen to 14 percent from his previous position of 33 percent. His support has collapsed under withering attacks from other campaigns and from outside groups, or super PACs, that are supporting other candidates, most notably Romney.

The key indicator in the survey comes in voters' responses to who they think has the best chance to beat President Obama in a general election. Romney was the choice of 41 percent of Iowans, with Gingrich the closest behind him at 17 percent.

In New Hampshire, which votes Jan. 10, Romney has reestablished a commanding lead, and Gingrich has fallen there as well. According to the CNN poll, Romney has 44 percent support in the Granite State, up from 35 percent, and Gingrich has fallen from 26 percent to 16 percent.

Paul remained steady in New Hampshire at 17 percent and is in second place.