WASHINGTON — Potential Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s lead over a crowded prospective Republican field has narrowed and her support has slipped below 50 percent, according to a new McClatchy-Marist poll.
Clinton remains ahead of potential Republican rivals including Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. But recent gaffes by the former secretary of state have helped close the gap.
For example, Clinton leads Christie 47 percent to 41 percent with 12 percent of voters undecided. In April, she led 53-42 with 5 percent undecided, and in February she enjoyed a 58-37 lead against the governor with 6 percent undecided.
She’s seen her cushion against Bush, brother of former President George W. Bush, erode to 48 percent to 41 percent with 10 percent undecided. That’s down from 55-39 with 6 percent undecided in April.
And against Paul, her lead has shrunk to 48 percent to 42 percent with 10 percent undecided from 54-40 and 6 percent undecided in April.
Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion in New York, which conducted the survey, attributed the slippage to Clinton’s increased visibility in promoting her new book, “Hard Choices,” and some recent gaffes.
Clinton caused a stir in June when she said that she and former President Bill Clinton left the White House in 2001 “dead broke” and in debt, a statement many potential voters found hard to accept given that both Clintons received millions of dollars in book deal advances and commanded six figures on the speech circuit.
She later said she regretted the comment, calling it “inartful” in an interview.
“Misstatements, starting with we left the White House broke, aren’t headline grabbers, but they’re noticeable,” Miringoff, said. “With Hillary Clinton, there’s no preseason. She needs a Super Bowl-like performance from start to finish.”
Meanwhile, the potential Republican White House aspirants are struggling to get separation from each other in the early maneuvering for their party’s nomination.
Bush and Christie are tied at 13 percent among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents in the Marist survey; Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas came in at 10 percent; Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, both at 9 percent; Paul and Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, 7 percent each; Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, 4 percent; former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, 3 percent; and Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, 2 percent.
“It’s a jump ball,” Miringoff said.
The field is so tight that “Undecided” leads among self-identified strong Republicans at 24 percent, with Bush in second at 19 percent. Every other Republican registers single digits.
Still, the poll’s numbers show the possibilities and possible pitfalls for some of the Republican candidates. Christie shows as a contender, despite the controversy over whether his aides orchestrated major traffic jams on the New Jersey-New York George Washington Bridge last year as political payback against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., not endorsing Christie’s re-election bid.
“He’s still visible and he’s creating distance between himself and the bridge closing,” Miringoff said. “He does best among independent-leaning Republicans and not as well among the tea party.”
At 15 percent, Cruz tops Republicans among tea party supporters, a subgroup in the survey, followed by Bush at 13 percent, Ryan and Rubio at 10 percent, and Christie and Paul at 7 percent. However, Christie has the edge among non-tea party supporters at 17 percent.
Cruz’s and Paul’s tea party numbers represent a dramatic reversal of fortunes from April, when Cruz’s support from that voting bloc was 6 percent and Paul’s stood at 20 percent.
Paul’s support has taken a hit as he’s sought to broaden his voter appeal. He’s spoken at historically black colleges and universities; introduced a bill to restore federal voting rights to nonviolent felons, a disproportionally minority population; advocated reclassifying some federal drug felonies as misdemeanors; and has tried to reshape the image of him as a foreign policy isolationist.
“He’s been getting a lot of attention for trying to moderate his views – and that may come at some cost,” Miringoff said. “As a national candidate, you do that at some risk.”