At the early stage of a contest like the 2016 Republican nomination fight, where there are numerous strong and plausible candidates, just being thought well of by voters may be more important than being their first choice. The Wall Street Journal today reports on the results of their poll (conducted with NBC News) showing that by this measure, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and current Florida U.S. Senator Marco Rubio are faring well, with former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee not far behind and Kentucky U.S. Senator Rand Paul seeing a decline.
Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio are solidifying their positions at the front of the pack of Republican presidential contenders, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds, with large shares of social conservatives, centrists and gun-rights backers within the GOP saying they are open to supporting either candidate.
Three-quarters of GOP primary voters say they could see themselves supporting Mr. Bush or Mr. Rubio, a significantly larger share than for any other contender.
Only Mike Huckabee is close after a surge of support since the prior Journal/NBC News poll, in April, with 65% now saying they could see themselves backing him. The survey found a decline in support for Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky...
Mr. Paul, the Kentucky senator, lost ground, with the share of likely GOP primary voters who said they could back him falling from 59% in late April to 49% in mid-June...
Even though Bush only 22 percent of voters saying they support him currently, the high number of voters who say they are open to supporting him gives him fertile ground for expanding that number, particularly if voters who don't currently support see the candidate they do support drop out of the race. Rubio and Huckabee are similarly well situated.
The Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll also suggests New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and businessman Donald Trump are likely to have problems growing their already modest levels of support (4 percent and 1 percent, respectively):
The bad news for Mr. Trump is that 2 out of 3 Republican primary voters said they wouldn’t consider voting for the reality-television star and real-estate developer, who generated significant news coverage and social-media discussion last week in announcing his candidacy.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also faces stiff resistance heading into the Republican nominating contest, with 55% of GOP primary voters saying they weren’t open to supporting him.
It's been said that Marco Rubio's strategy, at least part of it, is to be the second choice of as many voters as possible who don't currently support him, with the assumption that if he can stick around while other candidates drop, many of their voters will come to him. It's a good strategy, and the high level of potential support for him seen in this poll suggests it could pay off. But it could get complicated for if the other candidates still standing also have similar levels of potential support.