By Paul Steinhauser
CNN Political Editor
WASHINGTON (CNN) — A new national poll indicates that for the first time, there may be an early frontrunner in the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
And according to a CNN/ORC International survey, if Hillary Clinton decides against making another bid for the White House, Vice President Joe Biden would be the initial favorite to capture the Democratic nomination.
The poll, released Friday morning, indicates that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, fresh off his Garden State re-election landslide victory and widespread national media attention, jumped to the top of the pack of potential contenders for the GOP nomination.
Twenty-four percent of Republicans and independents who lean toward the GOP questioned in the survey say they’d be likely to support Christie for the Republican nomination, up seven percentage points from a CNN poll in early September. Back then, Christie and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the House Budget chairman and the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee, were virtually tied at the top of the GOP list, with Christie at 17 percent and Ryan at 16 percent.
But Ryan, who’s stayed mostly away from the political spotlight the past few months, has dropped to 11 percent, putting him in third place, slightly behind Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, at 13 percent. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who like Paul has made multiple trips this year to the states that kick off the presidential primary and caucus calendar, stands at 10 percent in the survey, the only other Republican White House hopeful to get double-digit support.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida is at 9 percent in the poll, with longtime Texas governor and 2012 Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry at 7 percent. Former two-term Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who battled eventual GOP nominee Mitt Romney deep into last year’s primaries and caucuses, each have 6 percent.
The poll suggests a wide divide along income lines among Republican voters.
“Among Republicans making more than $50,000, Christie wins 32 percent support, 20 points higher than Cruz, Ryan, or Marco Rubio, all of whom get 12 percent among higher-income GOPers, and 23 points higher than Paul,” said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “But among Republicans who make less than $50,000 a year, Christie’s support drops 19 points, only good enough for second place behind Paul.”
If Hillary Clinton doesn’t run
The CNN poll, along with all other 2016 surveys released this year, indicates that Clinton would be the overwhelming frontrunner in the race for the Democratic nomination.
Sixty-three percent of Democrats and independents who lean toward the Democratic Party say the former secretary of state, who also served as senator from New York and first lady, would be their choice for the party’s nomination, with Biden a distant second at 12 percent. Freshman Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a favorite of many progressives, stands at 7 percent, with New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo at 5 percent and two-term Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, another possible candidate, at 2 percent.
But how would the race for the Democratic nomination shape up if Clinton forgoes another run for the White House?
If that’s the case, the poll suggests that 43 percent of Democrats would support the Vice President, with Warren at 17 percent, Cuomo at 15 percent and O’Malley at 6 percent.
“Always remember that polls taken at this point in the election cycle usually measure name recognition rather than predicting support at the ballot box,” notes Holland. “Respondents rarely say they would vote for someone they have never heard of, and a lot of the names tested in the poll in both parties belong to politicians who do not have a national reputation.”
The poll was conducted November 18 to 20 for CNN by ORC International, with 843 adult Americans, including 418 Republicans and independents who lean toward the GOP, and 374 Democrats and independents who lean Democratic, questioned by telephone. The survey’s overall sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, with a sampling error of plus or minus five percentage points for questions just of Democrats or Republicans.