New polling from three early voting states shows Donald Trump leads the Republican field, but Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is moving into a strong second place in the race for the nomination.
In South Carolina, in fact, Cruz is now tied with Trump, each earning 27 percent support from likely Republican voters. The biggest move perhaps is in Florida, though, where Cruz has edged past Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush.
The most competitive state is New Hampshire, which cast its ballots in less than two months. Trump tops the field with 24 percent, 8 points more than his nearest rival. Cruz has 16 percent support, followed closely by Rubio with 14 percent and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie with 13 percent. Jeb Bush is in fifth, with 9 percent support.
Rubio, Christie and Bush have all spent considerable money on advertising in New Hampshire. Both Christie and Bush, also, have spent considerable time campaigning in the state, whose voters put a premium on retail politics.
The end result is a crowded field for the more moderate or establishment-minded voters. Together, Rubio, Christie and Bush earn 36 percent of New Hampshire Republicans’ vote. Trump and Cruz have 40 percent support between them.
Cruz’s strong showing in New Hampshire is perhaps the most surprising, though. The Texas Senator’s support is strongest nationally among Tea Party supporters, evangelicals and very conservative voters. Neither of these groups are strongly represented among New Hampshire Republicans.
In South Carolina, the Republican race is currently between Trump and Cruz, with all other candidates far behind. Trump and Cruz are tied for the lead, with 27 percent support each. Rubio is a distant third, with 12 percent support. Neurosurgeon Ben Carson is essentially tied with Rubio with 11 percent support. Jeb Bush has 7 percent. All other candidates combined earn just 5 percent support.
South Carolina votes just a little over a week after New Hampshire and opens a string of primaries through Southern states. One of the biggest of these will be Florida, home to both Rubio and Bush.
Florida votes on March 15 and, because of RNC rules, its likely the winner of the primary in the Sunshine State will get all of its delegates, rather than a proportional share. That puts Rubio and Bush at a big disadvantage as neither is likely at this point to win the state while both are in the race.
Trump, as elsewhere, leads the Republican field in Florida, with 29 percent of the vote. Cruz is second, with 18 percent. Rubio is in 3rd, but essentially tied with Cruz at 17 percent. Bush is 4th with 10 percent support. Even if Rubio or Bush withdrew, their combined vote share would still fall short of Trump’s support.
This latest poll is the third Florida poll to find Rubio and Bush trailing in third or fourth place in their home state.
The poll of the three early states was commissioned by the Associated Industries of Florida. It was conducted after the fifth Republican debate on December 15. The end take-away from all three polls is that the Republican race is coming down to a ballot among three candidates; Trump, Cruz and Rubio. For now, Trump and Cruz have the edge as the race nears its final turn.