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By David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Jeb Bush, who’s seriously considering a 2016 presidential bid, has sprinted to the front of the Republican field in a new McClatchy-Marist Poll.

Former GOP nominee Mitt Romney remains on top, with Bush, a former Florida governor, a close second. Take away Romney, and Bush leads the field.

The poll also found anxious Democrats increasingly eager to change course from President Barack Obama. Fifty-eight percent of Democrats want a nominee who’ll move in a different direction from Obama, up 10 percentage points from a year ago.

But that hasn’t translated — at least not yet — into any surge of support for a new face: Hillary Clinton leads by large margins over any potential challengers for the Democratic nomination, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), the emerging voice of the party’s liberal wing in Congress.

Right now, the action in the early presidential campaign is on the Republican side, and, as it has in five elections in the last half century, it involves a member of the Bush family. (George H.W. Bush ran for president in 1980, 1988 and 1992; George W. Bush ran in 2000 and 2004.)

Jeb Bush has been sending strong signals that he might run for the 2016 nomination. Early next year, he plans to release a book, as well as 250,000 emails from his two terms as governor, a possible precursor to a run.

“I think I would be a good president,” he said in a Miami television interview Sunday.

If he’s in, Romney probably isn’t, since they’d tap the same establishment campaign and funding sources. Bush has said he’ll decide soon.

If Romney did run, the poll found that he would be supported today by 19 percent of Republicans and Republican independents, followed by Bush with 14 percent.

They’d be followed by Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, each with 9 percent, and physician Ben Carson with 8 percent. The rest of the potential field trails behind in smaller single digits.

If Romney didn’t run, Bush would lead with 16 percent, followed by Huckabee with 12, Christie with 10 and Carson with 8.

Again, the rest of the potential field trails behind in smaller single digits. It includes Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, 7 percent; Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, 6 percent; Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. Rick Perry, both of Texas and each with 5 percent; Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Gov. John Kasich of Ohio and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, each with 3 percent; Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and businesswoman Carly Fiorina, each with 1 percent.

The poll, though, suggested Bush is vulnerable. “Undecided” got the most support in the survey without Romney, with nearly 1 in 5 choosing that option.

Bush’s ascent has as much to do with name recognition as support for his candidacy. “Look at the names at the top of the list. They’re well-known names in a crowded field,” said Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion in New York, which conducted the survey.

Bush, 61, hasn’t run for office in 12 years, and he’d be the third member of his family to seek the presidency. His father won in 1988 but lost in 1992, with the lowest popular-vote total for an incumbent in 80 years. His older brother won twice, in 2000 and 2004, but left office in 2009 with a dismal approval rating.

The Bushes also aren’t close to the Tea Party movement, the grassroots conservatives who have influence in Republican primaries. The poll found that Tea Party supporters prefer Huckabee, Carson or Cruz.

The survey also suggested that hard-core conservatives might make a strong showing. Nearly 2 in 3 people said it was more important to have a Republican presidential nominee who’d stand on conservative principles. One in 3 said it was more important to have a nominee with a good chance of winning.

Among Democrats, former Secretary of State Clinton remained far ahead of potential challengers. No one came close to her 62 percent support. Vice President Joe Biden had 11 percent.

Warren, who says she isn’t running, would get 9 percent today. Even among those who said they were very liberal, she won 11 percent to Clinton’s 62 percent. Warren did best among independents, with 15 percent to Clinton’s 56 percent.

Clinton may be well-positioned to take advantage of that mood, Miringoff said. She left the Obama administration nearly two years ago, has been somewhat critical of his foreign policy “and she can say she ran against the guy in 2008,” he said.

Clinton easily defeated every potential Republican challenger in general election matchups. She rolled up margins of 13 percentage points over Bush, 12 over Christie and Romney, and 14 over Paul. Notable: At a time when Democrats have had trouble wooing white voters, Clinton runs roughly even with the Republicans.
This survey of 1,140 adults was conducted Dec. 3-9 by the Marist Poll, sponsored in partnership with McClatchy. People 18 and older residing in the continental U.S. were interviewed by telephone using live interviewers.

Landline telephone numbers were randomly selected based on a list of exchanges from throughout the nation from ASDE Survey Sampler Inc. The exchanges were selected to ensure that each region was represented in proportion to its population. Respondents in the household were selected by asking for the youngest man.

To increase coverage, this landline sample was supplemented by respondents reached through random dialing of cellphone numbers from Survey Sampling International. The two samples were then combined and balanced to reflect the 2010 census results for age, gender, income, race and region. Results are statistically significant within 2.9 percentage points.

There are 923 registered voters. The results for this subset are statistically significant within 3.2 percentage points. The error margin increases for cross-tabulations.

There are 360 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents and 429 Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents. The results for these subsets are statistically significant within 5.2 percentage points and 4.7 percentage points, respectively.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr


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