WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton isn’t only the strong front-runner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, but she’s well ahead of every potential Republican rival, according to a new McClatchy-Marist Poll.
The former secretary of state rolled up support from majorities of voters when pitted against eight different Republicans. Though Clinton isn’t saying whether she’ll seek the White House, her supporters have been raising money and promoting her candidacy.
The race for the Republican nomination is a free-for-all, with five possible contenders in a virtual tie. Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who was virtually deadlocked with Clinton as recently as December, has regained some political strength after stumbling early this year but remains far behind the Democrat.
“Hillary Clinton is jogging around the track by herself as far as the Democratic field is concerned. Republicans are all in the starting blocks,” said Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion in New York, which conducted the poll last week.
Clinton was the only Democrat in the poll. Among Republicans, former Govs. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Jeb Bush of Florida _ who last won their governorships in 2002 _ each were named as the top choice of 13 percent of Republicans or Republican leaners. Right behind at 12 percent each were Christie, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
A host of others, generally well regarded in Republican circles but barely known outside their home states, are far behind.
In single digits were:
_ Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, 7 percent.
_ Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, 5 percent.
_ Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, 4 percent each.
_ Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, 3 percent each.
_ Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, less than 1 percent.
No one comes close to Clinton. Ryan does best, getting 43 percent against her 51 percent. Voters may see Ryan as “having a more serious policy focus,” Miringoff said.
Ryan was instrumental earlier this year in crafting a two-year budget compromise with Democrats. Among those who give him strong support are moderate voters.
The Republican once thought most capable of winning in 2016 was Christie. He was re-elected in November with substantial support among constituencies that traditionally vote Democratic, notably women and Hispanics.
He quickly stumbled, however, thanks to reports that officials close to him were instrumental in closing some of the lanes that link Fort Lee, N.J., to the George Washington Bridge in order to retaliate against a local mayor who wouldn’t help Christie.
Christie made a lengthy, public apology, fired aides involved in the incident and was cleared by a report from allies last month.
His political numbers have slowly climbed, though he hasn’t regained the stature he had in December, when he trailed Clinton by 3 percentage points.
This month he’d lose to Clinton by 53 to 42 percent, but that’s a notable improvement from the 21 percentage point gap between them two months ago.
The latest figures, Miringoff said, “make him look like one of the other Republicans.”
Indeed, there was little to distinguish one Republican from another. Paul won 1 in 5 supporters of the tea party. Christie won only 3 percent backing.
They all ran well behind Clinton in head-to-head matchups. She was up by 16 over Bush, 13 over Huckabee, 16 over Rubio, 15 over Cruz, 14 over Paul and 21 over talk show host Joe Scarborough.
She was viewed favorably by 52 percent, and unfavorably by 43 percent. One particularly encouraging sign for her, Miringoff said, was her 46 percent favorability among whites, a higher percentage than President Barack Obama got in his two elections.
Clinton’s unfavorability numbers did slip, though, as more Republicans soured on her. In January, Clinton had a 23 percent favorable and 68 percent unfavorable tilt among Republicans. This month, it was 19 percent favorable and 78 percent unfavorable. Miringoff said the change appeared to come “as she becomes candidate Clinton in the eyes of Republicans. It’s not surprising.”
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