That Rubio surge is coming annnnny minute now.
In fairness, he’s only two points behind Kasich and Cruz in a poll with a margin of error of 4.8 percent, so he’s effectively tied for second. On the other hand, how many Rubio fans are excited to find him battling John Effin’ Kasich for center-right votes less than a month from primary day?
Just a third of likely voters overall have settled on their choice, although 46 percent of Trump’s fans say they’re locked in. If they’re telling the truth then he already has more firmly committed voters as a share of the wider GOP electorate (14.7 percent) then any other candidate has leaners. This poll may be underestimating Trump’s support too, as it was conducted by phone rather than online. Remember, there’s a theory out there that online polls, where Trump tends to do better, are a more accurate measure of his support because they afford anonymity to people who secretly support him but are afraid to admit that to a pollster.
On the other end of the spectrum, check out Jeb Bush plunging here to just four percent of the vote, tied with Rand Paul for seventh place in Bush’s big state and putting him just a point ahead of also-ran Carson. His favorable rating? 39/47, when every other contender in the state is at least +11 in favorability. To be fair to Jeb, other recent polls of New Hampshire look nothing like this: The four other surveys taken in NH since New Year’s had him at 10, 9, 12, and 9 percent. On the other hand, as Nate Silver notes, Jeb has been polling around nine percent in New Hampshire for months. Even if you toss out today’s Monmouth poll and use the other recent data instead, there’s no real sign of any Jeb comeback.
But back to Rubio. He showed slight improvement in NH in the last poll taken last year and the first two taken this year, ticking up a couple of points in each to 15 percent. But this makes three in a row now where he’s failed to match that number, notching nine percent(!) in a NH1/Reach poll a few days ago and 14 percent in a more recent WSJ/NBC survey before today’s 12 percent figure in Monmouth. Hard to draw any firm conclusions from differences that slight from poll to poll — except for the fact that the Rubio surge in New Hampshire hasn’t arrived yet and seems less likely to arrive the more durable Christie’s and Kasich’s numbers look. Each of them has topped 10 percent in three of the last five polls of New Hampshire, per RCP’s tracker. Rubio does have better favorables (56/28) than Christie (50/36) and Kasich (43/32) do, but his unfavorable rating is up nine points since November, the biggest gain of any contender there except Ben Carson. In fact, here’s your amazing poll trivia of the day. If you believe Monmouth, Rubio’s favorable rating in moderate, mavericky New Hampshire is now just a shade worse than … Ted Cruz’s. No foolin’.
Cruz’s net favorables have gone from +14 in November to +33 now, the best of anyone in the field. And this isn’t just a “New Hampshire thing”; as I noted on Friday, it’s true nationally among Republicans as well. If you’re a Rubio fan, the counterspin to this poll is easy: We’re not really going to know who’s ahead in New Hampshire until the first week of February, after the aftershocks of the Iowa result and of the big endorsements to come (including Romney and McCain for Rubio, perhaps?) have been felt in NH. Fair enough, but between his current poll standing and his personal favorability, Cruz has a nonzero chance of winning this state too if he wins Iowa. Rubio fans could live with that so long as their guy finishes first among the other center-right candidates, believing that that sets him up for a long run for the nomination against Cruz in the months ahead. But coming back to win against someone who’s won Iowa and New Hampshire, which has never happened in a contested modern GOP primary, would be astounding, even if the winner of those two states is someone as loathed by party leaders as Cruz is.
Here’s Rubio defending his 2004 bill in the Florida state legislature calling for in-state tuition for illegals. Exit question: What if, against all expectations, Rubio finishes behind Christie and Kasich in New Hampshire? Is he done?