Clinton, Christie lead pack early for 2016

Outgoing U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are the early frontrunners for the 2016 presidential election, according to a new survey from Public Policy Polling.

Clinton, who has battled a series of health problems as of late, is the top choice among Democratic voters for their party’s nomination, with 57 percent favoring the former first lady. Vice President Joe Biden is a distant second, garnering the support of 16 percent of usual primary voters.

Among the potential Democratic candidates who trail Clinton, most seem to struggle with relatively low name recognition. For instance, 43 percent of Democrats have no opinion of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, 76 percent have no opinion of Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and 80 percent have no opinion of former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer. Biden is very well liked by his party’s voters – 75 percent hold a favorable view of him – but apparently not enough to be their nominee.

The poll finds Clinton beating a field of potential Republican presidential contenders. She leads Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) by 53-39 percent, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush 51-37 percent and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) 51-37 percent.

Christie narrows the gap against Clinton considerably, trailing her by just two points, 44-42 percent. He performs especially well with independent voters, leading Clinton among this demographic by nearly 20 percent. However, Christie would first need to win the Republican nomination, possibly a very steep climb, with just 5 percent of GOP voters preferring him to be the party’s pick. Instead, Rubio is the leading choice for Republicans at 21 percent.

The New Jersey governor is a favorite among moderate Republican voters, who name him as their top candidate. But self-described conservatives are far less fond of him, with just 4 percent picking Christie, perhaps due to his kind words for President Barack Obama’s handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in the final days of the 2012 presidential election and his recent excoriation of congressional Republican leadership after a storm-relief package for his region stalled in the U.S. House.

In fact, the poll shows Christie with a higher favorability rating among Democrats, at 52 percent, than Republicans, at 48 percent.

“Needless to say that furthest right wing of the party has become more and more and more powerful in party primaries over the last few years and it would be hard for Christie to win the GOP nomination without getting more support there,” pollster Tom Jensen writes in his analysis of the survey numbers.

Of course, four more years of Democratic control of the White House could motivate the GOP to look for a more moderate candidate in the likes of Christie. And with about 1,400 days left until Election Day 2016, almost anything is possible.

Conducted Jan. 3-6, the national poll of 1,100 voters has an overall margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.

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