Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) currently looks like the person to beat in the race for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016 – at least as far as the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire are concerned. And New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, once the clear front-runner, is suffering from reputational damage that has him looking increasingly like an also-ran.
A pair of NBC News/Marist polls released today have Paul leading the field of GOP candidates in both states. The Kentucky Senator came in first, with 14 percent of registered voters in New Hampshire picking him as their preferred GOP candidate in 2016. In Iowa, Paul shared the top spot with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, as both received 12 points.
But the real good news for Paul is that at the moment, he is one of the few GOP hopefuls whose reputation isn’t underwater with registered voters, and in head-to-head matchups with Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, he performs better than any of his competitors.
In Iowa, 40 percent of voters have a favorable opinion of Paul, compared to 37 percent who view him unfavorably. While those are hardly stellar numbers, they beat all of his major competitors who the pollsters asked about. Jeb Bush, Christie, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz were all viewed unfavorably by more voters than favored them. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was able to keep his head slightly above water, with a 32-29 ratio, but couldn’t match Paul’s 40 percent mark.
The story was similar in New Hampshire, where 41 percent viewed Paul favorably and 40 percent unfavorably. Again, the margins were slim, but most of the other GOP candidates pollsters asked about were in negative territory. The exceptions in the Granite state were Rubio and Walker, neither of whom approached Paul’s 41 percent, though.
Perhaps the most telling stat, though, is Paul’s numbers against Democratic juggernaut Hillary Clinton. NBC and Marist didn’t bother polling on a large slate of potential Democratic candidates, just because there’s nobody within shouting distance of Clinton when it comes to approval ratings.
They did, however, test Clinton against a number of Republicans. Paul tied her at 45-45 among likely voters in Iowa, where all the other GOP hopefuls lost. In New Hampshire, he lost 46-43, which was the best showing of any of the Republicans.
The NBC/Marist poll also demonstrated that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is still struggling to repair his reputation with voters, which was muddied by the revelation that his staff had ordered the closing of a major bridge for several days in order to punish a political opponent.
Christie placed fifth among the GOP candidates in Iowa, garnering only 8 percent of the vote. His favorability ratings in Iowa also lag his unfavorable by 35-42 percent. In New Hampshire, the news was better. He came in second to Paul by one percentage point, grabbing 13 percent of the vote. However, he remained underwater with regard to public favorability, 39-43.
While numbers like these likely won’t be enough to push the bellicose New Jersey governor out of the race, it suggests that, in at least one key state many voters see him as a middle-of-the-pack candidate, and in another, he trails the one candidate that appears to have shot against Clinton.
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