Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush would handily carry his homestate in a crowded GOP primary and is the only Republican to marginally lead Democrat Hillary Clinton in a theoretical 2016 presidential contest, according to a new Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey.
Bush would pull 34 percent GOP support in a primary -- more than double former presidential candidate Mitt Romney's 15 percent and more than triple U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio's 10 percent, the poll shows. The other 15 potential candidates (yes, it's that kind of potential Republican primary) all pull single-digit support in Florida.
In a general-election race against Clinton, Bush receives 43 percent of the vote and Clinton 42 percent. That 1 percentage-point lead is well within the poll's 3.5 percentage-point error margin.
All other major GOP candidates trail Clinton. Of them, Rubio does the best but trails her 46-42 percent.
Overall, by 44-38 percent, Florida voters say Bush should run. But only 28 percent say the same of Rubio, with 48 percent saying he shouldn't seek the presidency in 2016.
In a head-to-head matchup between Bush and Rubio, the former governor would get 57 percent Republican support to the senator's 21 percent; 7 percent want neither.
"The conventional wisdom is that there¹s only room for one Florida Republican in the presidential field, Bush or Rubio; and the clear, cut winner is Jeb Bush," Saint Leo's political science instructor Frank Orlando said in a written statement. "
"As Florida's 'favorite son,' he appears to be winning the invisible primary," Orlando said. "Our poll results confirm beyond a doubt his dominance over Rubio and the other Republican contenders. Jeb is wildly popular among Floridians. I was surprised at his massive advantage."
Florida is crucial for Republicans. Because Democrats take California and Florida in presidential contests, GOP candidates need to win Texas and Florida to even up the odds in the Electoral College. Texas isn't likely to turn blue for decades. If a Democrat takes Florida and its 29 Electoral College votes (in addition to Claifornia's 55 and New York's 29), it would give the party about 42 percent of the 270 needed to win the White House -- making a GOP win exceedingly unlikely (even if the Republican won vaunted Ohio and its 18 Electoral College Votes).
Orlando's poll didn't survey the field without Bush, so it's tough to see how well Rubio would do without him in the race.
Chances are that we won't see Bush and Rubio opposing each other on the same ballot. They're friends. Rubio owes a measure of his early career to the help of the elder Bush. If the two run for president at the same time (which I used to think was unlikely but no longer), there's a better chance Rubio would eventually drop out and qualify to run for his U.S. Senate seat again (Florida doesn't allow a person to seek two offices simultaneously on the same ballot). There's also a chance Rubio may leave the U.S. Senate.
But it's really early, anything can happen, this poll is a small snapshot in time, etc.
Saint Leo says this is an online-only poll. That technology (as opposed to live-call and robo-polling surveys) is still being worked out.