Hillary Clinton leads potential Republican rivals by double digits

But even a double-digit lead, this early in the campaign cycle, is not decisive. Should she run, the grind of the campaign will drag down some of these high numbers that Clinton is enjoying at the moment. 

John Woods/The Canadian Press/AP
Former US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton contemplates during a question and answer session with Victor Dodig, president and CEO of tCIBC, at a Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Winnipeg, Canada, Jan. 21, 2015.

A new ABC News/Washington Post poll shows that Hillary Clinton continues to maintain strong leads over any of her potential Republican challengers:

Hillary Rodham Clinton holds double-digit leads over potential Republican challengers Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney as the likely Democratic presidential candidate moves closer to entering the 2016 race, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds.

Although Clinton, Bush and Romney are all longtime politicians and members of political dynasties, registered voters are less likely to count that familiarity against Clinton. That is a good sign for Clinton, a failed 2008 presidential candidate and the focus of Republican criticism that her time has come and gone.

Clinton’s potential to make history as the first female U.S. president makes little difference to most voters and is a net positive for others.

The former first lady, U.S. senator from New York and secretary of state has said she is considering a second run for the White House. She joked about the anticipation surrounding her decision during remarks in Canada on Wednesday but did not offer hints about her thinking or the timing of a possible announcement. Democratic strategists say she is likely to enter the race in late March or April – some 10 months before the Iowa caucuses open the 2016 primary contests.

Clinton approaches the nominating season in a dominant position, leading Bush by 54 percent to 41 percent among registered voters and Romney by 55 percent to 40 percent.

Beyond Bush and Romney – the two Republicans who have made the firmest moves toward a 2016 run – Clinton holds equally large leads over other potential Republican hopefuls. She tops Rand Paul and Chris Christie by 13 percentage points each, and leads Mike Huckabee by 17 points.

Additionally, while much has been made about the issue of political dynasties and the problems that public distaste for the same old faces in politics could pose for potential campaigns by candidates such as Clinton, Jeb Bush, and Mitt Romney, the poll indicates that Bill Clinton is far from being a drag on a potential Hillary 201 6 campaign:

Clinton’s husband, former president Bill Clinton, appears to create little drag on her potential.

Among all voting-age adults, more than 6 in 10 say the fact that Bill Clinton served as president has no bearing on whether they would support Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. And among those who say her spouse’s presidency will matter, 23 percent say it will make them more likely to support her, while 14 percent say less likely.

A presumed voter distaste for dynasties has long been seen as a barrier to Clinton should she run, along with a sense, off-putting to some, that Clinton’s candidacy has been a foregone conclusion for years.

Jeb Bush’s family connections are less benign. A 55 percent majority says the fact that Bush’s father and brother served as president would not make them more or less likely to support him. But among those for which this will be a factor, it runs in a negative direction by 3 to 1.

Romney’s 2012 bid for the presidency as the Republican nominee makes no difference for just over 6 in 10 respondents. But among those for whom it does matter, about twice as many say it makes them less likely to support him.

Clinton also maintains leads over her potential GOP rivals across the gender gap:

Clinton’s advantages over Republican hopefuls are greater among both male and female voters in the new poll. Female voters favor Clinton by 20 to 24 points depending on which potential Republican candidate is matched against her, while men split more closely. Romney won male voters by 52 percent to 45 percent over Obama, according to 2012 exit polls. Clinton edges Romney by 50 percent to 46 percent among male voters in the new poll. Her 59 percent to 36 percent lead over Romney among female voters is bigger than Obama’s 55 percent to 44 percent over Romney among women in 2012.

Obviously, early polling like this must be taken with a grain of salt since it reflects, at least to some degree, name recognition and personal popularity absent the heat of a long, drawn-out presidential campaign far more than anything else. However, these numbers have been largely consistent over a long period of time that stretches back to the time when Clinton was still secretary of State to the point where it is difficult to dismiss them entirely. Even as Clinton’s own approval numbers have, predictably, fallen from the stratospherically high levels they were at when she was at Foggy Bottom, she has generally proven to be outperforming her potential Republican rivals in head-to-head match ups. While these numbers will likely tighten as we get closer to the actual election, it’s rather obvious that the GOP has huge obstacles to overcome between now and November 2016. These range from the demographic issues with young, Latino, and female voters, to the issues involved in trying to win back states such as Florida, Virginia, and Ohio, all of which are must-win for the GOP in 2016. If Hillary Clinton maintains strong numbers like this going forward, then Republicans are going to find themselves with a tough job ahead of them.

In the end, I suspect that the ultimate outcome of the 2016 election will be closer than the double digit leads that we’re seeing from Hillary Clinton today. American politics is essentially divided straight down the middle at this point, and we’re far more likely to get results at the national level like those we saw in 2004, 2008, and 2012 than we are to see anything like the landslide victories that have been scored in the past by presidents ranging from Lyndon Johnson in 1964, Nixon in 1972, Reagan in 1980 and 1984 and Bush in 1988. Slowly but surely, the grind of the campaign will drag down some of these high numbers that Clinton is enjoying at the moment and, when we finally do get to Election Day, the split between Republicans and Democrats will be about the same as it has been in pretty much every election going back to the one that put her husband in office in 1992. Clinton would still seem to have the advantage in such an election, of course, but it won’t be an overwhelming one and the possibility does exist for the GOP to pull off a victory if they have the right candidate. Of course, if the GOP goes far to the right and nominates someone like Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas, then it becomes far more likely that we could see an overwhelming Democratic victory, although even then its unlikely that Clinton’s coattails would be sufficient to take back the House, and may not even be sufficient to take back the Senate. As far as the presidency goes, though, Hillary still has the advantage and that’s unlikely to change any time soon.

Doug Mataconis appears on the Outside the Beltway blog at http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/.

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