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For years, GOP activists have insisted that their party can only return to the White House by anointing a “true conservative” as the party’s standard bearer.

But a new Bloomberg Politics Poll turns that Republican precept, and a few other pieces of conventional wisdom, on its head.

The poll, released Monday, tested former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s chances against five Republicans — former Florida governor Jeb Bush, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, Texas senator Ted Cruz, Kentucky senator Rand Paul, and 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney — in hypothetical 2016 presidential matchups. It found that Clinton holds solid leads over all five, which is hardly a surprise considering her overwhelming name recogntion advantage (94 percent of voters have formed an opinion of Clinton — 52 percent view her favorably and 42 percent view her unfavorably — while less than 80 percent have an opinion on each of the Republicans aside from the well-known Romney).

But the underlying data should give Republicans pause as they consider their options in what is sure to be a contentious presidential primary. Although the right constantly preaches that only one of their own can win the White House, the poll finds the more moderate Republicans running much closer to Clinton than the Tea Party-aligned candidates. Clinton leads Bush, Christie, and Romney by 6 percent each in head-to-head matchups. Meanwhile, she holds an 8 percent lead over Paul, and a 13 percent edge over Cruz.

Cruz and Paul’s right-wing reputations appear to be hurting them with voters. When asked which candidate better shares their values, Clinton leads Bush and Romney by just 6 and 3 percentage points, respectively. By contrast, she leads Paul on that measure by 13 points, and Cruz by 15. Christie lags behind Clinton by 14 points on this measure, perhaps illustrating some residual damage from his George Washington Bridge scandal. In any case, it seems clear that voters are not identifying with the most conservative Republicans in the field.

The Bloomberg poll also counters some popular conservative myths about Clinton’s presidential hopes. Although Republicans have made it clear that they will use Clinton’s tenure at the helm of the State Department as a centerpiece of their argument against her, the poll suggests that voters see the experience as one of her strongest selling points. An overwhelming 77 percent said they see her four-year term as the highest-ranking member of the president’s cabinet as an asset, while just 22 percent see it as a disadvantage.

Similarly, despite suggestions that Clinton will suffer from “Obama fatigue,” voters agree 59 to 39 percent that her having been a member of the Obama administration is an asset. Voters also agree 78 to 20 percent that Clinton’s having lived in Washington and worked in the federal government is an asset — raising a potential red flag for much of the Republican field, who are positioning themselves as political outsiders.

The Bloomberg poll sampled 1,001 U.S. adults ages 18 or older, and has a margin-of-error of +/- 3.1 percent. The full results can be seen here.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

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