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By Margaret Talev, Bloomberg News (TNS)

Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and Rand Paul are leading the Republican pack as most electable against Democrat Hillary Clinton in three swing states, according to a new poll with provocative implications for the crowded Republican primary.

Still, Clinton tops eight Republican contenders or the matchups are too close to call in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, with just one exception — a theoretical Ohio contest against that state’s Gov. John Kasich — according to a Quinnipiac University Poll released Wednesday.

At the same time, the survey found that majorities of voters in the three states say Clinton isn’t honest and trustworthy, and has lower numbers than desirable for Democrats when people are asked whether a candidate cares about the needs and problems of people like them.

If the general election were held now and Clinton were the Democratic nominee, Rubio would be Clinton’s top threat by a “tiny” edge, said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the survey. Rubio leads Clinton 44 percent to 43 percent in one state, Pennsylvania, and trails her 44 percent to 47 percent in Florida and 42 percent to 45 percent in Ohio.

Bush trails Clinton in all three states, the poll found, though by small margins: 41 percent to 42 percent in Ohio, 42 percent to 46 percent in his home state and 41 percent to 45 percent in Pennsylvania.

Paul, a U.S. senator from Kentucky, edges Clinton 45 percent to 44 percent in Pennsylvania and ties her at 43 percent in Ohio while falling well behind her in Florida, 39 percent to 46 percent.

Scott Walker, a top challenger in early Republican primary contests, isn’t doing as well as the leading rivals against Clinton in swing-state matchups, the survey found. And while Kasich outpolls Clinton 47 percent to 40 percent in his home state, he trails her 35 percent to 48 percent in Florida and 39 percent to 45 percent in Pennsylvania.

No candidate since 1960 has won the presidency without two of the three states.

Clinton faces potential trouble in three areas, however: voter perceptions of her favorability, trustworthiness and empathy. Her favorability rating was 47 percent to 45 percent in Florida, while skewing negative in Ohio, 44 percent to 48 percent, and in Pennsylvania, 46 percent to 48 percent. Asked whether she’s honest or trustworthy, the answer was no for 51 percent of voters in Florida, 53 percent in Ohio and 54 percent in Pennsylvania.

Less than half of voters in each of the states said she cares about the needs and problems of people like them: 48 percent in Florida and Ohio and 45 percent in Florida.

“Democrats usually win that question,” Brown said. “The Democratic Party’s focus, they say, is on helping average folks. And the answer is not all that positive for her.”

Meanwhile, Brown said, “The Republican race is a muddle, and this data shows that there’s no clear leader on the Republican side in terms of who’s best against Secretary Clinton.”

The poll, conducted June 4-15, surveyed 1,147 Florida voters with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points; 1,191 Ohio voters with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points; and 970 Pennsylvania voters with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

(c)2015 Bloomberg News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

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