A new poll of Florida Republicans shows Donald Trump opening his biggest lead in the Sunshine State. The poll, from Florida Times-Union and Fox35, has Trump in first place, with 31 percent support, twelve points higher than Ted Cruz, who is in second place with 19 percent.
Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio are locked in a battle for third, with Bush edging Rubio 13 percent to 12 percent. Rubio’s standing in this poll represents a 3 point decline from the Times-Union poll in December.
The Times-Union poll was conducted Sunday, after the Republican debate last week in Charleston. Nearly 70 percent of those interviewed for the poll reported watching the GOP debate.
Opinions of who won the debate closely match the head-to-head results. Nearly 37 percent of Republicans said Trump won the debate, while 25 percent said Cruz won the debate. The 12 point spread separating Trump and Cruz on debate performance is the same margin between them on a hypothetical vote.
Perhaps the most interesting finding is that the combined vote for Rubio and Bush is just 25 percent in their home state. This would put them below Trump and just slightly ahead of Cruz.
The findings are a serious blow to attempts by Florida Republicans, who moved the primary in a bid to help Bush or Rubio.
Florida moved its Presidential primary to March 15th, the first date at which primaries can be conducted under “winner-take-all” rules. Prior to March 15th, delegates in primaries and caucuses are awarded proportionally, i.e. even candidates finishing in second or third place can win delegates.
With “winner-take-all” rules in place, Florida, with 99 delegates, represents potentially the richest prize of delegates of all the early voting states. Even if Bush or Rubio failed to gain significant traction in other early voting states, taking all of Florida’s delegates could potentially have evened the delegate count.
That plan, obviously, lies in tatters. In a cruel twist, the Florida primary may end up killing off the campaign of either or both of the state’s native sons. It is especially telling that, even if their votes were combined, the support in Florida for Bush and Rubio wouldn’t be enough to prevent Trump from winning the state.
The combined vote of Rubio and Bush might not even be enough to ensure that one of them defeats Ted Cruz for second. Of course, unlike the states voting before Florida, coming in second in the Sunshine State is meaningless.
The wave of support for outsiders for the nomination is drowning more mainstream candidates across the country. Together, Trump, Cruz, and Ben Carson command 57 percent of the vote among Florida Republicans. This is more than double the support for Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, in their own state.
That is the 2016 Republican primary distilled.