Newt Gingrich’s rapid rise in presidential polls has left veteran Republicans scratching their heads, and not just because he vaulted from far back to lead Mitt Romney in several key states.

They’re trying to figure out why the former House speaker is supported by GOP voters who think he’s not particularly honest and doesn’t share their values. They’re puzzled that Iowa evangelical Christians are flocking to a man who was unfaithful to two wives, paid $300,000 in House ethics fines and converted to Roman Catholicism.

They’re surprised that Republican voters say they value Gingrich’s experience far more than that of his rivals. Gingrich’s record of earning millions of dollars in the government influence business, after 20 years in Congress, seems to upend the notion that this election cycle is driven by Tea Partyers’ hostility to Washington insiders.

“I can’t decipher what’s going on,” said Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., one of the Tea Party’s best-known first-term lawmakers.

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