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First Read: The 2016 Unpopularity Contest

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
This combo made from file photos shows the 2016 Republican presidential candidates who have officially declared their candidacy as of Sunday, July 12, 2015. Top row, from left, Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, South Carolina U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Bottom row, from left, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former New York Gov. George Pataki, Kentucky U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, and real estate mogul Donald Trump. (AP Photo)AP

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

The Unpopularity Contest

The numbers inside the new NBC-Marist poll tell a story beyond the horesraces in Iowa and New Hampshire. They underscore how most of the top presidential candidates are unpopular right now with the general-election audience in both states. And that's especially true for Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton and (not much surprise here) Donald Trump. The one exception? Bernie Sanders. Take a look at the numbers:

Candidate fav/unfav scores among registered voters in Iowa

  • Bernie Sanders: 30%-27% (+3)
  • Rubio: 31%-32% (-1)
  • Scott Walker: 30%-31% (-1)
  • Jeb Bush: 34%-46% (-12)
  • Hillary Clinton: 37%-56% (-19)
  • Donald Trump: 32%-60% (-28)

Candidate fav/unfav scores among registered voters in New Hampshire

  • Sanders: 41%-29% (+12)
  • Bush: 40%-45% (-5)
  • Walker: 28%-34% (-6)
  • Rubio 28%-34% (-6)
  • Clinton: 37%-57% (-20)
  • Trump -27%-67% (-40)

These numbers, in particular, aren’t good news for Hillary -- and they match what a recent Quinnipiac poll also found in Iowa. That said, the national story is a bit different, with a new CNN poll finding Hillary’s fav/unfav rating nationwide at 45%-48% (-3), versus Trump’s 33%-58% (-25) and Jeb’s 33%-43% (-10).

As Obama goes, so goes Hillary

Our NBC-Marist polls of Iowa and New Hampshire also make this pretty clear: As Obama goes, so goes Hillary. The president’s approval rating stands at 43% in Iowa and 41% in New Hampshire. And his fav/unfav numbers are upside down in both states -- 46%-51% in Iowa (-5) and 43%-53% in New Hampshire (-10).

But we still have 15-plus months to go

Yet here is a VERY important reminder about looking ahead to the general election: It was at this time exactly four years ago that Washington and President Obama were rocked by the debt-ceiling crisis. Remember that? Indeed, in our NBC-Marist poll of Oct. 2011, Obama’s approval rating in the Hawkeye State was at 42%, and his approval in New Hampshire was even worse -- at 38%. And guess what: Obama ended up winning both states in the 2012 general election pretty easily, it turns out.

Looking at the NBC-Marist horserace numbers

As for our primary/caucus horserace numbers in the NBC-Marist poll, Trump leads the GOP field in New Hampshire, getting support from 21% of potential GOP primary voters. He’s followed by Jeb Bush at 14%, Scott Walker at 12% and John Kasich at 7%. In Iowa, Walker and Trump are in the Top 2 -- with Walker at 19% among potential Republican caucus-goers and Trump at 17%. They’re followed by Bush at 12%, Ben Carson at 8%, Mike Huckabee at 7% and Rand Paul at 5%. Meanwhile, in the Democratic presidential race, the polls show that Hillary is ahead, but that Bernie Sanders has gained ground on her since earlier this year. In Iowa, Clinton leads Sanders by 29 points, 55% to 26%, with Martin O’Malley at 4% and Jim Webb at 2%. In New Hampshire, Clinton is ahead of Sanders (who represents neighboring Vermont in the U.S. Senate) by 13 points, 47% to 34 %. They’re followed by O’Malley at 5% and Lincoln Chafee at 2%.

Bill Clinton vs. George W Bush

Our NBC-Marist polls also examined the popularity of former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. In Iowa, Bill Clinton’s numbers among Democrats is 83%-12%, and 53%-41% among all registered voters. By comparison, Bush’s are 75%-19% among GOP voters and 45%-50% among all registered Iowa voters. The numbers are pretty similar in New Hampshire: Clinton’s standing is 84%-13% among Democrats and 56%-41% among all voters, while Bush’s are 74%-20% among NH Republicans and 48%-46% among all Granite State voters. Just a reminder of what a GENERIC “Clinton” vs. “Bush” contest might look like.

Kasich: “Grow up”

Finally, maybe the biggest surprise in our NBC-Marist poll is John Kasich sitting in fourth place in New Hampshire. (Then again, the pro-Kasich New Day for America has spent $2.1 million on Kasich’s behalf in the Granite State.) And Kasich sat down with NBC’s Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” yesterday. “If we're running for these offices just to get elected, I mean, we're not running for class president,” Kasich said. “We're running to be the commander-in-chief and the leader of the United States of America. Grow up.” The toughest foreign-policy challenge for the next president? “Well, radical Islam really is a giant one. We should be there, including boots on the ground. And we need to degrade and destroy ISIS.” So that means sending more U.S. troops into Iraq? “Well, I would have them in a role where they're going to be on the ground fighting.” What about immigration? “What I support is a guest worker program expanded so people can come in and then go home. Seal the border... Guest worker program, the 12 million that are here, if they violated the law, they go out or they go to jail. But if they're hardworking, God-fearing, family people, they go to church, they work with us, let them stay. They're going to have a pay a fine.”

Priebus doesn’t criticize Trump in “Today” interview

On the “Today” Show this morning, RNC Chair Reince Priebus didn’t criticize Donald Trump. “He is speaking out to people who are frustrated.” Priebus disagreed that Trump could do damage to the GOP brand. “Everyone speaks for themselves.” But he added, “I do agree that tone matters.” Finally, Priebus said he doesn’t see Trump running as an independent candidate. “Our candidates should pledge not to run as a third-party candidate.”

The prize for the most overheated political rhetoric goes to…

Lastly, as “Meet the Press” noted yesterday, some of the GOP candidates NOT NAMED Donald Trump have done some, well, interesting things to break through with all of the attention to Trump. There was Rand Paul taking a chainsaw to the tax code. There was Lindsey Graham destroying his cell phone. And there was Ted Cruz picking a fight with Mitch McConnell on the Senate floor. But this might take the cake for being over the top: Mike Huckabee said the Iran deal “will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.” President Obama responded to the comments Monday morning, deriding Huckabee's arguments as "ridiculous" at a news conference in Ethiopia. The comments, he said, are "part of a general pattern that would be considered ridiculous if it weren’t so sad.” More: "Presidential debates deserve better," Obama added, suggesting that Huckabee may have been aiming to push Donald Trump out of the headlines. "We just don't fling out ad hominem attacks like that because it doesn't help inform the American people," he added.

On the trail

Clinton remains in Iowa… Jeb Bush is in Florida… Marco Rubio stumps in South Carolina… Scott Walker is in Illinois… Martin O’Malley campaigns in New Hampshire… And Carly Fiorina gives a foreign policy speech at the Reagan Library in California.

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