Senator Rand Paul won a Michigan Republican Party straw poll over the weekend, doubling the share of rival Governor Chris Christie. The victory overshadows a mostly unnoticed change in the race for the GOP presidential nomination: Christie is back on top as Senator Ted Cruz’s rise pulls away from of Paul’s support.
The event is somewhat of a proving ground for 2016 aspirants. Paul, Governor Scott Walker, Governor Bobby Jindal and Senator John Thune all spoke there. The result was a landslide victory for Paul with 188 votes, followed by Christie (82), former Governor Jeb Bush (42), Walker (39) and Texas Senator Ted Cruz (36).
The result was most disappointing for Walker, Jindal and Thune because each spoke at the event and lost to candidates who weren’t even in attendance.
The state of the race has subtly shifted since my July 29 analysis when Paul was the frontrunner by any measure. The dynamics of the race still favor him, but Cruz’s gain is coming at his expense and it has enabled Christie to regain a slight lead.
Paul had taken the lead, but now CNN’s latest poll has Christie back in the top spot with 17%, followed by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan with 16%. Paul has fallen to 13%, followed by Bush (10%), Senator Rubio (9%), Cruz (7%) and Santorum (5%).
Christie is favored by 28% of moderates and only 8% of conservatives. His strength is derived from dominating the moderate vote as more conservative Republicans are divided amongst themselves. This is how McCain and Romney won the nomination in the last two presidential nomination cycles.
A similar shift has happened in New Hampshire, where Paul had been leading with 22% to Ryan’s 18%. The latest PPP poll shows Paul retains a slim lead with 20%, but Christie is right behind him with 19%. They are followed by Bush (14%), Senator Ayotte (12%), Cruz (10%), Rubio (7%), Ryan (7%), Jindal (3%) and Santorum (2%).
Paul and Christie offer competing visions on national security but they are each already deploying their own electability arguments.
The numbers are presently on Christie’s side. The only match-up that the GOP currently wins in the polls is Christie vs. Biden. In that case, the GOP is ahead by 4%.
Clinton defeats all GOP candidates in the critical battleground state of Virginia, but Christie ties her. He’s one percent behind her in another. In a head-to-head with Biden, Christie wallops him in Virginia by 12%. Paul, on the other hand, barely gets by with a 1% lead.
Paul can reasonably argue that his name identification is not as high as Christie’s and that his new vision for the Republican Party has not been presented to the public yet. Paul believes that focusing on privacy issues and reformation of drug laws will win him the youth vote.
Polls regarding the National Security Agency surveillance controversies have changed. In July, 50% of Americans supported the NSA programs with 44% opposed. The numbers were the opposite for Republicans. Now, almost 60% oppose the NSA programs. More broadly, 60% believe the federal government is too powerful.
Christie earlier positioned himself as being tougher on national security than Paul, but it looks like this maneuvering is going to backfire unless his position changes.
In addition, none of Christie’s adversaries have mentioned his troublesome associations with Islamists. Just last week, the Council on American-Islamic Relations honored Christie for his confrontational attitude with so-called “Islamophobes.”
The four Islamists on Christie’s Muslim outreach committee continue to meet with top N.J. law enforcement officials. They were even given a briefing on how non-profits can get Homeland Security grants.
On the Democratic side, Clinton continues to dominate. Her language has changed recently. Whereas she previously expressed disinterest in running for the White House, even going so far as to say she won’t make a run, she is now says she is wrestling with the decision.
Nationally, Clinton has the support of 65% of Democrats, followed by Biden with 10%. The conventional wisdom is that Biden will be the strong, perhaps insurmountable, frontrunner for the Democratic nomination if Clinton doesn’t run.
New polls show that Senator Elizabeth Warren is creeping up on Biden. In the national poll just referenced, Warren is only three points behind Biden. Cuomo follows with 6% and O’Malley has 2%. You can read my article about O’Malley’s concerning stances on Islamism here.
In New Hampshire, Warren is only one percent behind Biden in a race that includes Clinton. If she does not run, she is the clear alternative to Biden. He gets 36% and she gets 20%. Keep in mind, Biden’s support is probably at a ceiling because of his name recognition but Warren is just getting started.
The takeaway at this time is that Christie’s support is stable and has done the best job of uniting a faction of the Republican Party behind him (the moderate one). The fate of Christie’s candidacy depends upon whether another candidate can unite the conservatives behind him as the alternative.
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