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What We Learned About Christie, Clinton and Rand Paul This Week

Clinton has a cakewalk to the nomination if she wants it; Christie has some trouble within his own party; and Rand Paul looks like an early frontrunner

Four 2016 takeaways from the NBC/Marist polls

The early 2016 race is certainly in today’s news. Chris Christie is in Iowa; Joe Biden is in Detroit for Netroots Nation; Elizabeth Warren speaks there tomorrow. And guess what: We have brand-new NBC/Marist polls of Iowa and New Hampshire to make sense of the early ’16 race. And here are our four takeaways from these polls. The first: Hillary Clinton -- if she runs -- is going to have a cakewalk to the Democratic nomination, no matter how many political observers might want to see a race. Per the polls, Clinton crushes Vice President Biden among Democratic voters in Iowa (70%-20%) and New Hampshire (74%-18%). What’s more, Iowa Democrats view Clinton positively by a whopping 89%-6% score, and New Hampshire Dems are even more welcoming, giving her a 94%-4% fav/unfav rating. So keep those numbers in mind when Biden addresses the liberal Netroots Nation confab in Detroit today (here’s Perry Bacon’s preview of that gathering). Keep them in mind when you read about the “Ready for [Elizabeth] Warren” effort. And keep it in mind when you hear about Martin O’Malley’s latest maneuvers. If Hillary runs, she’s going to win the Democratic nomination, whether she faces actual primary opposition or not.

Hillary is earning ex-president money when she still likely will run for president in ’16

All of that said, headlines like this one -- “University at Buffalo paid $275,000 for Hillary Clinton speech -- aren’t good news for her. She is making ex-president money when she is likely running for president. And that raises an important question: Who is minding her 2016 store? Who is looking out to make sure her image isn’t damaged before any ’16 run? None of the moves she’s made this year suggests that there is a strategic 2016 focus. If somehow she doesn’t run, then we all might look back on this year and say, “Of course she wasn’t running, why else would she have allowed all these bad headlines to accumulate in her dash for speech cash?”

Democrats are ready for Hillary. But everyone else? Not as much

Our second takeaway from the NBC/Marist polls: While Clinton looks like an unbeatable juggernaut in the Democratic presidential race if she runs, she appears more vulnerable in a general-election contest. In the presidential battleground state of Iowa, Clinton is tied with Sen. Rand Paul, (45%-45%), and leads New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie by just one point (44%-43%). She holds larger leads against former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (46%-42%), Sen. Marco Rubio (49%-40%), Sen. Ted. Cruz (49%-37%) and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (50%-37%). In hypothetical general-election match ups in New Hampshire, Clinton is ahead of Paul by three points (46%-43%), Christie and Bush by five points (47%-42%), Walker by 9 points (48%-39%) and Cruz by 13 (51%-38%).

Christie has higher negatives among Republicans than all other 2016 GOPers

Our third takeaway: As Christie heads to Iowa today, prompting another round of talk about his presidential ambitions, he faces a 2016 obstacle maybe as daunting as the “Bridge-gate” scandal rocking his administration -- a sizable number of Republican voters dislike him. A third of Republicans in Iowa (33%) and New Hampshire (31%) view the GOP governor negatively, according to our NBC News/Marist polls. By contrast, half of Republicans in Iowa (50%) and New Hampshire (52%) view him positively. Indeed, Christie’s negative numbers among Republican voters are higher than all the other GOP presidential prospects the NBC/Marist poll tested:

  • Rand Paul has a 66%-18% fav/unfav score in Iowa, and a 71%-15% percent rating in New Hampshire;
  • Jeb Bush sits at 63%-18% in Iowa and 65%-20% in New Hampshire;
  • Marco Rubio is at 57%-13% in Iowa and 58%-10% in New Hampshire;
  • Scott Walker is at 44%-11% in Iowa and 50%-7% in New Hampshire;
  • And Ted Cruz is at 44%-19% in Iowa and 50%-14% in New Hampshire.

Conservative complaints about Christie aren’t new. In fact, they pre-date the Bridge-gate scandal, thanks in large part to his embrace of Obama -- right before the 2012 presidential election -- after Hurricane Sandy. So here is his problem as he tries to revive his 2016 chances: Many conservatives still aren’t fans, and his one-time crossover appeal with independents and Democrats has been wrecked by Bridge-gate. That is a tough situation.

Rand Paul is your early GOP front-runner

Our fourth and final takeaway: Rand Paul is your early Republican front-runner. Yes, the NBC/Marist polls show a crowded and wide-open field in Iowa and Hampshire. And, yes, they even show Mr. Undecided leading in both (20% in Iowa, 22% in New Hampshire). But note that Paul has the highest favorable ratings in Iowa and New Hampshire. Note that he appears at the top of the early horserace fields in those two states (when you eliminate Mr. Undecided). Note he runs best against Clinton in both Iowa and New Hampshire. And note all of the other things he’s done in the past six months -- hire Rick Santorum’s former campaign manager, team with Cory Booker on legislation, and espouse a foreign policy that’s more popular with the public and even a plurality of Republicans. To borrow a NASCAR analogy, Paul has earned the pole position before the real race begins. Make no mistake: We’re unsure he can withstand half or more of his party trying to take him down (a la what happened to Howard Dean in late 2003). But he’s your early GOP front-runner.

Border supplemental in a very precarious situation

Lastly, the emergency supplemental to deal with all of the children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border is suddenly in a VERY precarious place. The New York Times: “Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader, reversed course on Wednesday and said she would not back changes to a 2008 law that gave certain undocumented immigrant children broader legal rights to enter the United States.” Meanwhile, conservatives are balking on Sen. John Cornyn’s border bill. National Review: “A revolt is brewing among conservatives who, for policy and procedural reasons, dislike the border-crisis bill proposed by Senator John Cornyn (R., Texas) and other bills under discussion in the House. ‘There are people in the House who fully believe that if the president isn’t willing to enforce current law, then why would we pass anything?’ Representative Jim Bridenstine (R., Okla.) told National Review Online.” And this is all over $2-4 billion, which is just a drop in the bucket when it comes to government spending.

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