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GOP’s White House Wannabes Still Neck and Neck: Poll

The four members of Congress likeliest to run for president in 2016 are all bunched together near the top of a front-runner-free Republican field, according to this year’s most extensive poll about the next race for the White House.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, on the other hand, is the overwhelming choice of Democrats and she led every opponent in the hypothetical general election contests tested by the Marist-McClatchy poll out this morning.

The poll found a statistical six-way scramble for the top spot in the totally theoretical GOP field, because of the 5-point margin for error in the sample of people who identified themselves as Republicans or GOP-leaning.

Discounting the undecided, at 25 percent, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey finished first with 15 percent support, followed by Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin at 13 percent, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida at 12 percent, former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida at 10 percent, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky at 9 percent and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas at 7 percent.

Clinton was the first choice of 63 percent of Democrats surveyed — a level of support five times greater than that of Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who was named by only 13 percent. Biden’s support was lower than those Democrats (18 percent) who said they were unsure of their choice.

In the head-to-head matchups, Clinton bested Christie by 6 points, Bush by 8 points, Rubio and Paul both by 12 points, and Ryan by 16 points — a not-very-good sign if the House Budget chairman and 2012 vice presidential nominee decided to base a White House run on his electability. (The pollsters didn’t test a Clinton vs. Cruz contest.)

By a ratio of 2 to 1, the Republicans surveyed said it was more important to have a nominee who would stand up for conservative principles than it was to pick a candidate who could win in November 2016. That would suggest that Christie, the most moderate of the potential GOP candidates, who has had perhaps more national attention than the others in recent weeks, might not wear well over time. The race may instead become a battle for primacy among the congressional conservatives.

The 1,200-adult sample size of this survey was bigger than that of any of the eight other national polls about the GOP field this year, each of which showed Rubio as the front-runner, although by statistically insignificant margins. Today’s poll can be seen as only a hint, therefore, that Rubio’s leading role in passage of the Senate’s immigration overhaul legislation has started to dim his early luster among GOP voters.