Surprise: Poll now shows Ted Cruz leading GOP 2016 field

I know, I know, it’s a PPP poll, but that’s good enough for Friday afternoon. Cruz’s lead is small and no one else in the field has slipped significantly, so this is less about Cruz gobbling up the competition than it is about him showing up as a real player in 2016. There is one data point that’s interesting, though. Here’s what PPP’s GOP primary poll looked like in July:


And here’s what it looks like now:


Cruz has pulled away from Rand Paul among the “very conservative,” turning a two-point lead two months ago into a 17-point lead now. That’s probably chiefly a function of Cruz’s greater visibility lately, with his 21-hour filibuster against the bete noire of ObamaCare supplanting Paul’s earlier filibuster against drones in the grassroots imagination. If so, then Paul can claw back some of that support later by taking another high-profile stand against one of Obama’s policies. But maybe there’s more to it than that; if Cruz emerges as the de facto leader of the tea party in Congress, and today’s NR report of him huddling with House conservatives against Boehner suggests that he might, then his hold on the “very conservative” might be more durable. Speaking of which:

Our numbers also suggest that Cruz is now viewed more broadly as the leader of the Republican Party. When asked whether they trust Cruz or GOP leader Mitch McConnell more, Cruz wins out 49/13. When it comes to who’s more trusted between Cruz and Speaker John Boehner, Cruz has a 51/20 advantage. And when it comes to Cruz and 2008 GOP nominee and Senate colleague John McCain, Cruz wins out 52/31. He now has more credibility with the GOP base than the folks who have been leading the party for years.

They didn’t poll Paul versus McConnell and Boehner, but with Paul backing McConnell for reelection in Kentucky, he’s not as well positioned as Cruz to be a grassroots figurehead against the leadership. But wait — if Cruz is vacuuming up conservative voters, how is Paul right behind him among Republican voters overall? Look again above and you’ll see that he’s increased his share of two other GOP demographics, the “somewhat conservative” and the “somewhat liberal,” where he’s gained 14 points. Maybe that’s the product of a small subsample, but it wouldn’t surprise me if him speaking out against mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders lately has made an impression on socially liberal GOPers. If you had to guess how libertarian-leaning Republicans would identify themselves, “somewhat conservative” and “somewhat liberal” would be your guesses. So just as Cruz’s brand is starting to sharpen up, so is Paul’s. And then you’ve got Chris Christie in the middle, increasing his take of “moderates” by 10 points since July. That would be a nifty primary in 2016 — the centrist, the “true conservative,” and the heterodox libertarian, head to head to head. Seems less unlikely by the day.

Update: Ben Domenech argues that when you’ve got one candidate who’ll be dismissed as an establishment RINO sellout by the base and another who’ll be dismissed as a grandstanding fanatic by the donor class, the guy between them — i.e. Rand Paul — is in a good spot to capitalize.

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