(CNN) -- He may be down in national polls, but Mitt Romney is on a roll in the two states that kick off presidential voting.
A new survey of Iowa Republicans out Monday puts Romney more than 20 points ahead of his closest rivals.
The former Massachusetts governor is at 36 percent in the University of Iowa Hawkeye poll. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the GOP front-runner in most national polls, places second at 13 percent and is in a virtual tie with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson is in fourth place at 11 percent and Arizona Sen. John McCain trails with 6 percent. The Republican survey carries a margin of error of plus or minus 5.8 percentage points.
The University of Iowa poll surveyed 285 likely Republican caucus-goers by telephone from October 17-24 and carries a margin of error of plus or minus 5.8 percentage points.
Romney has topped just about every poll done in Iowa since the summer, but his 23-point lead in this new survey is much larger than in others. He leads most polls in New Hampshire, but by a much smaller margin.
Romney's front-runner status in the Iowa and New Hampshire polls is very different from his standings in national surveys, where he averages around 12 percent in most recent polls.
So what's the secret of Romney's success in Iowa and New Hampshire? Part of it could be money well spent.
Romney has raised more campaign cash than any other Republican candidate so far. He's spent a lot of that money on television ads. Romney leads all candidates, Republican and Democrat, in TV ad spending. He's spent more than $8.7 million and his commercials have aired more than 12,000 times, mostly in Iowa and New Hampshire.
"Mitt Romney is following a traditional path to the White House by focusing on Iowa and New Hampshire," CNN political editor Mark Preston said. "It is not clear if this will be the only road to the GOP nomination, but it certainly is one way there and right now he owns it."
One possible troubling sign for Romney in Iowa could be his support from the 44 percent of Republican caucus attendees who consider themselves evangelical Christians.
According to the new poll, Romney holds only an 8-point lead among those voters over Huckabee, a Baptist minister. But among Republicans who don't consider themselves evangelical, Romney's lead widens dramatically.
Iowa's caucuses kick off the presidential primary calendar. This year they'll be held earlier than ever -- Thursday, January 3.
The poll in Iowa comes as Romney grabs a major endorsement in New Hampshire, which traditionally directly follows Iowa and holds the nation's first primary.
One of New Hampshire's top Republicans, Sen. Judd Gregg, announced at a rally Monday in Concord that he would back Romney. The two men then walked to the New Hampshire Statehouse, where Romney formally filed to put his name on the state's primary ballot.
In a statement, Gregg said Romney "embodies New Hampshire's values -- values that stress government living within its means, lower taxes, a stronger military and stronger families."
Gregg is a three-term senator and a former governor of New Hampshire. The state's other senator, Republican John Sununu, has said he doesn't plan to endorse a candidate in the primary.
As a former governor of a neighboring state, winning New Hampshire is essential for Romney. "Coming in first in New Hampshire is a must for Romney as it was for John Kerry in 2004," CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider said. "And Kerry won the Granite State by first winning in Iowa. Coming out on top in New Hampshire is essential for a candidate from Massachusetts." E-mail to a friend