If Donald Trump hasn’t complicated the 2016 presidential race enough for his GPO competitors across the country, he’s complicating it especially in Florida, a battleground state critical to Republican chances of retaking the White House. Florida is fronting two GOP candidates in the race: Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, one a senator the other a former two-time governor. Yet Trump beats both easily among registered Republicans in the latest Quinnipiac University poll–Bush by four points, and Rubio by 10.
Should Trump not be the nominee, he has not ruled out a third-party run. If he were to take that route, he would make it easier for Hillary Clinton to win–or for Joe Biden to win, should the vice president decide to run, as he would bleed votes away from either Rubio or Bush. Clinton would take 37 percent of the vote to 36 percent for Bush and 19 for Trump. Clinton would win over Bush by much wider margins (10 and eight points) in Ohio and Pennsylvania, also critical battleground states. No candidate can win the White House by losing Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, given the certain outcome in the majority of the remaining states.
Trump is very far from out of the picture either way. But if he were to be so, this latest poll is also the most encouraging for Rubio and Bush, who now handily would beat Clinton in Florida. That’s a significant turn-around from a year and a half of polling.
If the election were held today. Bush would beat Clinton 49-38 percent in Florida. Rubio would beat her 51-39. And even Trump would beat her in a head-to-head match-up, 43 to 41. That’s a sign that Clinton’s reputation has suffered in the last several months, not least because she’s also been taking criticism from members of her own party, with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the race. Clinton’s support has fallen even among Democrats, who give her 48 percent support to Sanders’s 15 percent in Florida.
Clinton’s popularity was expected to weaken in Florida with Rubio and Bush making stronger showings. But it wasn;t expected to weaken as much in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Yet it has. In Ohio, she still beats Bush but by just 2 points, and she’s losing to Rubio by 8 points. In Pennsylvania, Bush beats Clinton by 3 points and Rubio tops her by 7. If Biden were in the race, he’d be beating Bush and Rubio in Ohio and losing to both by slim margins.
“Vice President Joseph Biden, who is spending his time in seclusion, contemplating whether to take on Secretary Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries for president, has some new information to consider,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll. “Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers are like a leaky faucet: drip…drip… drip. She is now getting less than half the vote in all three states’ Democratic primaries.”
Clinton’s honesty, empathy and temperament are faring poorly among voters. Her negative numbers in each category are high. In Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania she averages a negative 37 – 55 percent favorability, bad numbers matched only by those of Trump. Yet she is still the strongest candidate to emerge with the nomination, assuming Biden does not join the race. Even if Biden does, his staying power is not likely to sustain him throughout the primary campaign.
Bush is doing better in personal characteristics.
“The first Republican debate mattered,” said Brown. “Gov. Jeb Bush got middling debate grades and slips in the GOP horse race. Yet he does very well when voters rate the leading Republican candidates on personal characteristics. He scores best on honesty, empathy and temperament to handle an international crisis, while finishing a close second to Trump on leadership. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker gets very low debate grades and all but disappears from the Republican primary list.”