The New 2016 GOP Frontrunner?

Daniel Doherty

1/29/2014 3:30:00 PM - Daniel Doherty

Hardly. But according to one left-leaning PPP poll -- with a D/R/I split of 39/36/26 -- Mike Huckabee does lead the Republican pack heading into 2016. Curiously, his recent “offensive” comments seem only to have bolstered his appeal with the GOP electorate:

Following the controversy over his 'Uncle Sugar' speech Mike Huckabee has...taken the lead in the Republican primary race for 2016. He's at 16% to 14% for Jeb Bush, 13% for Chris Christie, 11% for Rand Paul, 8% each for Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Paul Ryan, 6% for Scott Walker, and 5% for Bobby Jindal.

There's been more movement than usual over the last month, with Huckabee and Bush each gaining 3-4 points, and Chris Christie and Ted Cruz each falling by 6 points. Cruz had been leading the field among 'very conservative' voters for months but in the wake of Huckabee's press attention last week he's taken the top spot with that group. He's at 20% to 15% for Paul, 11% for Cruz, and 10% for Bush. In the wake of Bridgegate Christie's supremacy with moderate voters is being challenged- a month ago he led Bush by 23 points with them, but now his advantage is down to 3 points at 28/25.

Fully 43 percent of respondents described themselves as either “somewhat conservative” or “very conservative.” By contrast, only 31 percent described themselves as “very liberal” or “somewhat liberal.” The rest were “moderates.” So while the D/R/I split seems to benefit Democrats, those who self-identified as conservatives out-sampled those who self-identified as liberals by double digits. Is this why Huckabee is the frontrunner? But if so this doesn’t really explain why conservatives are drawn to Mike Huckabee of all people and not, say, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio or Scott Walker. One possible explanation is name recognition. Unlike Huck, none of these candidates have run for president before; plus, candidates like Christie who are well-known are damaged goods at the moment. Another is that 61 percent of the population surveyed was 46 years old or older; therefore, the majority of conservative Republicans surveyed were perhaps middle-aged/elderly social cons who are attracted to Huck’s continued and explicit defense of Christian moral values. The sheer demographics of the survey could have given him the edge. Maybe?

But far more interesting, perhaps, is how much Democrats are utterly banking on Hillary Clinton running for president in 2016. Look at these numbers:

Clinton's leads might be modest but there's not much doubt Democrats would be in a far, far better position with her than any of their other potential candidates. Even with Christie's declining popularity he would still lead Elizabeth Warren by 9 points (43/34) and Joe Biden by 11 points (46/35) in hypothetical contests.

Clinton continues to be as dominant as ever when it comes to the Democratic primary. 67% want her to be the candidate to 7% each for Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren, 2% each for Cory Booker and Andrew Cuomo, and 1% each for Kirsten Gillibrand, Martin O'Malley, Brian Schweitzer, and Mark Warner. Clinton continues to have the strong support of every Democratic constituency- she's over 60% with liberals, moderates, men, women, whites, African Americans, and Hispanics alike.

If Clinton sits it out Joe Biden is the favorite, getting 32% to 16% for Warren, and 7% each for Booker and Cuomo. And if Biden doesn't run either it's Warren 24%, Cuomo 13%, and Booker at 11% with no one else over 4%.

There’s always the fleeting chance that an Obama-esque candidate emerges out of left field to win the nomination. I’m not ruling that out. But of all the candidates rumored to be running for president, no one even comes close to challenging Hillary for the nomination at this stage in the game. Granted, it’s early. But if she doesn’t run Democrats' electoral hopes and dreams fall to…Joe Biden. By contrast, the Republican bench is stacked with conservative reformers, many of whom have executive experience. So no matter who wins the Republican nomination, Republicans will presumably be well situated to recapture the White House in 2016. But if Hillary Clinton doesn’t run, Democrats could be in deep, deep trouble.