Last week Nate Cohn wondered why a guy like Rubio with obvious “breakout potential” hasn’t broken out yet, early though it may be. No one expects him to run away with the nomination, but no one expected he’d be stuck at five percent either. As a conspicuously electable center-right candidate, why hasn’t he at least joined Jeb Bush and Scott Walker by polling in the mid-teens?
If you believe CNN, he’s on his way. For the moment.
Overall, 17% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents back Bush for the GOP nomination, while 12% support Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Paul and Rubio stand at 11% each, with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee at 9% and Cruz at 7%…
On one metric, however, Bush has an emerging challenger. While 18% see Bush as the candidate who best represents the future of the Republican Party, the same share say fellow Floridian Rubio is the best representation of the GOP’s future. Paul, at 10%, is the only other candidate in double digits on this question…
Cruz’s announcement raised his numbers among Tea Party backers, but he has shown little improvement elsewhere. Among tea party supporters, Cruz and Walker tie for the top slot at 15%, Rubio follows at 14%, Paul 12%, and Bush 11% with the rest in single digits.
Rubio’s out-polling Rand Paul among tea partiers now, eh? Interesting footnote to the CNN results: Of the three Republicans who’ve formally announced they’re running, only two have seen their numbers improve since last month. Cruz gained three points (not coincidentally, Ben Carson, a competitor for the social conservative vote, lost five) and Rubio gained four points. Rand actually lost a point after jumping in. Maybe all of that is just an artifact of the margin of error, or maybe it’s an early warning that Rand’s “conservatarian” ceiling will be lower than everyone thinks.
Dig into the crosstabs and you’ll find that Rubio consistently does a few points better on various metrics with senior citizens in the 65+ group than he does with the next oldest demographic, the 50-64 crowd. I can’t figure out why that is, and it seems incongruous for a guy who’s young by the standards of presidential candidates, looks even younger than he actually is, and talks relentlessly about the future. Maybe it’s a simple matter of Rubio polling relatively well with tea partiers, his immigration heresy notwithstanding, and there being more senior citizens within the tea-party demographic here than slightly younger voters. Although in that case you’d expect Ted Cruz to poll better with 65+ voters than he does with 50-64 too, and he doesn’t. On multiple questions, he’s a few points better among the latter group than the former. Hmmm.
There’s more good news for Rubio in the head-to-head data against Hillary. Right now he does better against her than anyone else in the field, trailing by, uh, just 14 points, and he’s noticeably better against her among non-white voters than the rest of the GOP field is. Don’t get me wrong — he still gets crushed within that group, losing 74/22. But that 52-point spread is 10 points better than any other Republican manages. Jeb Bush, the other Great Latino Hope, loses non-whites by a cool 62-point margin. If that’s the start of a polling trend for Rubio in which he outperforms the competition consistently among Latino voters, you’d better believe the GOP’s donor class will rethink their loyalty to Jeb.
Speaking of which, new from Mason-Dixon polling, a snapshot of the battle for Florida 2016. Jeb does well against Hillary, leading her 47/43 and losing the Hispanic vote fairly narrowly by seven points. Rubio, however, does better:
Rubio leads her 49/43 overall, with just one thin point separating them among Latinos. (Rubio’s also stronger than Jeb with black voters, who split 92/5(!) for Hillary against Bush.) You can asterisk those numbers if you like, starting with the facts that (a) Cuban-Americans in Florida are different in important demographic ways from most Latino voters nationwide and (b) Hillary can afford to lose Florida and Ohio and still win the election comfortably with 285 electoral votes provided she holds all other Obama states from 2012. The only thing these early polls are good for, though, is detecting the start of what may become significant trends among voters in the race to come. Rubio polling better than Bush consistently with Latinos anywhere would be a significant trend.
Here’s Rubio from over the weekend stressing that he thinks being gay is something you’re born with, not something you choose, another small break with social-con orthodoxy on issues related to gays. Exit question: Look back at the CNN poll’s numbers for Jeb and tell me, are they encouraging or discouraging for his candidacy? On several key questions, most notably which GOP contender has the right experience to be president, he’s quite a bit stronger than the rest of the field. He leads on “experience” with 27 percent of the vote versus just 15 percent for Scott Walker, the guy who finished closest to him, suggesting that his executive record in Florida is a big deal to voters. He’s also north of 20 percent when people are asked who would be the strongest leader (21 percent) and who has the best chance of beating the Democratic nominee (26 percent). And yet, for all of that, he pulls only 17 percent when voters are asked whom they prefer as nominee. Maybe that’s evidence that some people like Jeb’s resume but are withholding judgment until they see him in action at the debates; assuming he performs well, the fencesitters will feel reassured and he’ll bounce out to a bigger lead. Or maybe it’s evidence that, for all of Jeb’s good qualities, some segment of Republicans just isn’t going to tolerate a guy named “Bush” at the top of the ticket again, no matter how much they like what he did as governor.