As Christie’s Star Fades, Ryan Moves Ahead in GOP Race
Policy + Politics

As Christie’s Star Fades, Ryan Moves Ahead in GOP Race

REUTERS/Eric Thayer

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) appears to be the chief political beneficiary of Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s “Bridgegate” woes.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that Ryan for now is the top choice of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents for the 2016  nomination with 20 percent --  followed by former Florida governor Jeb Bush with 18 percent and Christie 13 percent.

Related: Chris Christie Tries to Changes the Subject

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is the prohibitive favorite of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents for their party’s nomination, with 73 percent, according to the poll.

Three freshmen GOP senators with strong Tea Party backing – Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida -- bring up the rear among the potential Republican contenders. They scored 12 percent, 11 percent and 10 percent, respectively.

The brusque, hard-charging Christie, was at or near the top of the pack in opinion surveys last year – particularly after a solid reelection for governor.  He boasted of his ability to reach out to Democrats and independents and get beyond the partisan gridlock of Washington.

Christie has since suffered politically from the bridge-traffic scandal engulfing his administration, which has triggered investigations by the U.S. attorney’s office and the New Jersey General Assembly.

Related: A Chastened Chris Christie Is a Better Candidate for 2016  

With Christie’s popularity badly dented, the Republican preferences for president look like a “six-car pileup” in the latest poll, according to ABC News Pollster Gary Langer. Just 35 percent of Americans see Christie favorably overall, dropping from 52 percent in a Gallup poll in June, while his unfavorable score has doubled to 40 percent.

 Polling of this sort – two years out from the presidential campaign -- has little value in predicting the ultimate shape and strength of the Republican field, experts agree. Yet it contributes to a narrative that Ryan – a seemingly reluctant contender – is quietly gaining credibility and strength as he ponders his options.

While Cruz and  Paul in particular generated extraordinary media attention last year in repeatedly challenging President Obama on a raft of domestic and foreign policy issues, Ryan scored a 73 percent favorable rating among Iowa Republicans in a December 2013 Des Moines Register poll. The survey instantly made Ryan the very early front-runner for the 2016 Iowa caucuses.

Related: Why Paul Ryan May Be the One to Beat in 2016

With memory of the Romney-Ryan GOP ticket in 2012 beginning to recede, Ryan has reemerged as his own man. He took the lead with Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) in crafting a two-year budget deal late last year that precluded the possibility of a repeat of the 16-day government shutdown last October.

Since last February, Ryan has been quietly visiting inner-city neighborhoods to talk to ex-convicts and recovering addicts about new approaches to assisting them and their communities. Ryan’s staff, meanwhile, has been trolling center-right think tanks and intellectuals for ideas to replace the “bureaucratic, top-down anti-poverty programs” that Ryan blames for “wrecking families and communities” since Lyndon B. Johnson declared a war on poverty in 1964, according to the Washington Post.

What’s more, Ryan has signaled that he will move from the Budget Committee to chair the Ways and Means Committee in 2015, provided he and the GOP win in 2014.

Related: Paul Ryan’s New Idea Is Really Smart—But Will It Fly?  

As The Wall Street Journal notes, “The top job on Ways and Means would present major distractions, and potential pitfalls, for anyone seeking higher office. But it could also provide a platform for Republican messaging on economic issues as Democrats maintain a focus on issues of economic inequality.”

University of Virginia political scientist Larry J. Sabato said on Thursday that “No one has been able to detect any organizing by Ryan for a presidential run, but as the most recent VP nominee, he could start later than most.”

“My sense is that he'd rather not do it, and he's only 44 years old in any event,” Sabato said. “He could make a bid in many cycles to come. But I suppose if the powers-that-be in the GOP were restless or panicking that an unelectable presidential nominee might be chosen, Ryan could be persuaded to make a bid. But so could Jeb Bush. And Governors Scott Walker of Wisconsin and John Kasich of Ohio are already interested in looking after their likely reelections this fall.”

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