Jeb Bush surges to double-digit lead among 2016 GOP presidential contenders

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush broke away from the pack in the latest CNN/ORC poll with a 10-point lead over Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey. But a Rasmussen poll released Monday finds likely Republican voters split on whether they want another Bush in the White House.

Susan Walsh/AP
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, center, recites the Pledge of Allegiance before giving the keynote address at the National Summit on Education Reform in Washington, Nov. 20. According to a December poll conducted by CNN/ORC, the former governor has pulled ahead of the potential presidential contender pack.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) is grabbing more than just news headlines with his talk of a possible presidential run. He’s also grabbing public support, rising in the past month to take a pretty commanding lead in a newly released poll.

Governor Bush clocked in as favored for the nomination by 23 percent of Republicans or independents who lean Republican, in the CNN/ORC International survey, which was conducted Dec. 18 to 21.

That showing was a big gain from the 14 percent he garnered in a November poll. And it puts him well ahead of the next most popular potential candidate.

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey came in second place, at 13 percent (up from 9 percent support in November).

It’s too early to make very much of Bush’s growing profile in the 2016 race.

For one thing, plenty of Republicans aren't enthused by the idea of another Bush-family White House bid. A Rasmussen poll released Monday finds likely Republican voters split, with one-third saying Bush should run, one-third saying he shouldn't, and the final third not sure.

But the CNN poll results create pressure on others to pick up their pace in efforts to win support and money.

As Bush has gained, a cluster of other possible candidates lost ground compared with November, when their support ranged from 5 to 11 percent. The results this time around:

  • Ben Carson (retired surgeon): 7 percent.
  • Mike Huckabee (former governor of Arkansas): 6 percent.
  • Rand Paul (US senator from Kentucky): 6 percent.
  • Paul Ryan (congressman from Wisconsin): 5 percent.
  • Ted Cruz (US senator from Texas): 4 percent.
  • Rick Perry (Texas governor): 4 percent.
  • Scott Walker (Wisconsin governor): 4 percent

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida rose rather than fell in December (to 5 percent support), and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal also edged up, to 4 percent.

With only two people in double digits, could it be shaping up as a Bush versus Christie nomination fight? It’s way too early to draw such a sweeping conclusion. Remember how last time around, all kinds of people held at least brief polling leads before balloons finally dropped for Mitt Romney at the Republican Party’s 2012 convention?

Former Massachusetts Governor Romney, by the way, was absent from CNN’s poll. Another recent poll put him ahead of Bush and the others, if he were to stage a surprise return to electoral politics.

But the new CNN poll suggests that a decent number of voters are ready to at least consider another candidate from a political family that has already won the White House in 1988 (George H.W. Bush) as well as in 2000 and in 2004 (George W. Bush). And it ensures that potential donors take him seriously.

Just before the CNN poll was taken, Jeb Bush announced that he was formally exploring a presidential run. That followed months of speculation about whether he had serious aspirations for 2016.

He’s seen by many as having a strong track record as governor of Florida – and it’s noteworthy that the Sunshine State is often a vital swing state in presidential races.

On the policy front, Bush is known as an advocate for comprehensive immigration reform, arguing that “the best antidote to illegal immigration is a functioning system of legal immigration.”

That can help at a time when the party has a self-acknowledged need to broaden its appeal to Hispanic voters. But he may have to fight to show the party base he’s conservative enough to earn their support in key primaries, which are still more than a year away.

In a hypothetical 2016 matchup against potential Democratic nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton, Bush posted the best showing of any Republican in the CNN poll, but still trailed the former first lady and secretary of State, 41 percent to 54 percent.

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