And boy, do we mean early. With the 2016 Iowa caucuses nearly a full year away, a new Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll released over the weekend shows Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker jumping out to a small lead in the state -- followed by Rand Paul, Mitt Romney (now out of the race), Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson. Jeb Bush pulls eight percent, with Chris Christie struggling at four percent, weighed down by uniquely weak favorability ratings. Notably, grassroots hero Ted Cruz hasn't gained much traction in an electorate that seems fairly well-suited to his message; the same can be said of Rick Santorum, who narrowly carried Iowa in 2012. And Marco Rubio's backing among Iowa Republicans stands at three percent. Details:
According to Bloomberg's write-up, when Romney's supporters are re-allocated among their stated second choices, "Walker's backing grows to 16 percent, followed by 15 percent for Paul, 13 percent for Huckabee, and 10 percent for Carson. Removing Romney from his third-place spot had no effect on the ranking order of the other top potential candidates and offered the biggest boost to Huckabee. Bush's overall number inched up just one point, to 9 percent." That last nugget is a departure from national Republican preferences, based on a recent Fox News poll revealing that Bush has the most to gain from Romney's exit:
[The survey] found that Mr. Bush was the second choice of many who favored Mr. Romney, and would lead the field in his absence. Although Mr. Romney would have led the field with 21% of Republicans surveyed by Fox, the poll found that in his absence Mr. Bush rose to No. 1 spot with 15%, followed by Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky tied with 13% each.
Name recognition is the name of the game at this point, and money will become an increasing potent factor -- which is why Jeb Bush's six-figures-per-day fundraising clip is an eye-opener. The Iowa survey suggests that voters are eager to hear from the emerging Republican field, and are open to change their opinions based on candidates' performances. Walker's share of support shot up by eleven points compared to his anemic four percent showing in the same polling series just four months ago. A much-heralded showing at a recent Hawkeye State forum, resulting in plenty of buzz, appears to have vaulted the Wisconsin governor from an afterthought to the front of the pack. The survey was in the field a few days after that event, and concluded before Romney exited the race. Suffice it to say, things are quite fluid at this stage (as they should be, with no formally declared candidates). The nascent Democratic contest is, well, less competitive:
Staring at stable, dominant numbers like these, it's little wonder that Team Hillary is privately debating running mates and mulling forgoing primary debates. Democratic voters are clearly "ready for Hillary," even if that enthusiasm hasn't necessarily transferred over to the broader electorate. Before you go, click through to a New York Times piece detailing the process behind Romney's 2016 demurral. It appears as though Jeb Bush scored his first major victory of the cycle by contributing heavily to Mitt's decision via aggressive poaching of donors and staffers. An opening for Christie? Perhaps -- if he can straighten out his aforementioned favorability problems. I'll leave you with Scott Walker's table-setting web ad, in case you missed Dan's post late last week:
UPDATE - A relevant point about this poll, via Brit Hume:
Yeah, that MOE is…high. Also, it's early February of 2015.