For the first time, Iowa’s Republican insiders see Cruz winning the caucuses if they were held today.
By STEVEN SHEPARD – – – –
Democrats think Donald Trump would be the easiest Republican to beat next November but they fear Marco Rubio.
That’s according to a majority of the Democratic insiders in this week’s POLITICO Caucus, our survey of the top strategists, operatives and activists in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.
Nearly 60 percent of Democratic insiders in the first four nominating states say the businessman — who has mostly avoided tapping his vast personal fortune to fund his campaign — would be the easiest of the leading GOP candidates to defeat in the general election.
Roughly two out of three picked Rubio from a list of five leading GOP contenders — including Trump, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush — as the most formidable GOP hopeful due to his biography and political skill.
“We all want to believe [Trump’s] support base cannot grow much more,” said a Nevada Democrat. “[Rubio] does a superb job of using his story in his campaign; of all Republicans, he has the best [only] chance of reaching Hispanic voters; his youth and charisma are contrast to [Hillary] Clinton.”
“Rubio excites audiences that hear him — he’s an optimistic face on regressive policies — which makes him very dangerous,” added a South Carolina Democrat, who like all the insiders, completed the survey anonymously.
On the other hand, Democrats expressed confidence that not only would they defeat Trump easily but a Trump nomination would lead to a Democratic landslide up and down the ballot. One New Hampshire Democrat called the prospect of the New York real estate tycoon winning the nomination “a self-inflicted tsunami” for the GOP. “Democrats, independents and mainstream Republicans would abandon the top of the ticket and perhaps sweep out Republicans down ticket as well.”
A Nevada Democrat looked forward to a head-to-head meeting between Clinton and Trump: “With his bombast and lack of policy depth, Trump makes an easy target for Clinton to demonize. She must be chomping at the bit to take him on in a debate.”
Still, some Democrats cautioned that, while a Clinton-Trump race looks like a mismatch now, Trump’s enduring appeal over the course of the year allows for some lingering doubts.
“I’d like to believe that Trump would be the easiest to defeat and hope that is not just wishful thinking,” said another New Hampshire Democrat.
A quarter of Democrats dissented, choosing Carson as the easiest Republican to beat.
“Consensus is growing on both sides of the aisle that Carson is a brilliant doctor and a blessedly earnest soul and a merciful contrast to Trump’s bombast,” said another New Hampshire Democrat, “but he is just not cut out for the presidency and all its complexity.”
Republicans: Rubio likely to claim establishment lane.
Not only is Rubio the candidate Democratic insiders fear most — when Republicans in the early states were asked who would most likely unify the GOP establishment, a 56 percent majority chose Rubio.
“Rubio has support in every lane of the Republican Party,” said a South Carolina Republican. “We will need that kind of support to win the general election, and even his detractors admit it.”
Bush was in second place on this question, but well behind his fellow Floridian, with just under 1-in-5 GOP insiders saying the former governor would unify the establishment behind his floundering candidacy. Some insiders said Bush’s failure to gain traction was opening the door among establishment Republicans who might have looked askance at Rubio’s chances.
“Unless Jeb starts to pull off some miracles, the establishment will have to turn to Rubio if nothing more than to combat Donald Trump,” said a South Carolina Republican.
But some insiders cautioned that Rubio could look better on paper than in reality — especially when Republicans start casting their ballots.
“All signs point to the fact that it SHOULD be Rubio, but it just doesn’t feel that way in Iowa yet,” said one Republican there. “The 35 [percent] to 40 percent establishment Caucus vote (think Terry Branstad Republicans) in Iowa effectively remains a jump ball.”
“He needs to beat other candidates — even if by just a couple points — in early states,” warned a New Hampshire Republican. “A risk for Rubio is that he ends up fourth or fifth in Iowa and New Hampshire and behind [John] Kasich or Bush or Carly [Fiorina] or [Chris] Christie. If so, he’ll have a hard time making the case that he’s the one who should go forward. Also: Stop playing it so damn safe! Be a leader!”
Christie, the New Jersey governor who appears to be generating some momentum in New Hampshire, was the third choice — and the only other candidate to earn significant support, 16 percent — on this question.
“He has [spent] more time in New Hampshire than any other candidate,” said a Republican there. “He now has the endorsement of the Manchester Union Leader and is busy cultivating other endorsements.”
Iowa: Ted Cruz emerges as the favorite.
For the first time since we began tracking this question last spring, a majority of Iowa GOP insiders say Cruz, the conservative Texas senator, would be the top vote-getter if the state’s caucuses were held today.
Cruz and Trump were running neck-and-neck on this question just two weeks ago, with Carson close behind. But Cruz has surged ahead, insiders say.
Nearly two-thirds of the subsample of Iowa GOP insiders said Cruz would win the caucuses today.
“He’s moving in the polls, building his organization, and is peaking at the right time,” one Republican said of Cruz. “Love him or loathe him, he’s run a tactically smart race and will surpass Trump to win Iowa.”
But others said Trump — who, along with Carson, has led on this question since Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker faltered over the summer — still retains the upper hand, citing his campaign infrastructure and durability atop the polls since entering the race.
“Best ground game, best organization,” said another Iowa Republican. “The people who have decided on Trump become more solid all the time.”
These are the members of the POLITICO Caucus, not all of whom participated this week:
Iowa: Tim Albrecht, Brad Anderson, Rob Barron, Jeff Boeyink, Bonnie Campbell, Dave Caris, Sam Clovis, Sara Craig, Jerry Crawford, John Davis, Steve Deace, John Deeth, Derek Eadon, Ed Failor Jr., Karen Fesler, David Fischer, Doug Gross, Steve Grubbs, Tim Hagle, Bob Haus, Joe Henry, Drew Ivers, Jill June, Lori Jungling, Jeff Kaufmann, Brian Kennedy, Jake Ketzner, David Kochel, Chris Larimer, Chuck Larson, Jill Latham, Jeff Link, Dave Loebsack, Mark Lucas, Liz Mathis, Jan Michelson, Chad Olsen, David Oman, Matt Paul, Marlys Popma, Troy Price, Christopher Rants, Kim Reem, Craig Robinson, Sam Roecker, David Roederer, Nick Ryan, Tamara Scott, Joni Scotter, Karen Slifka, John Smith, AJ Spiker, Norm Sterzenbach, John Stineman, Matt Strawn, Phil Valenziano, Jessica Vanden Berg, Nate Willems, Eric Woolson, Grant Young
New Hampshire: Charlie Arlinghaus, Arnie Arnesen, Patrick Arnold, Rich Ashooh, Dean Barker, Juliana Bergeron, D.J. Bettencourt, Michael Biundo, Ray Buckley, Peter Burling, Jamie Burnett, Debby Butler, Dave Carney, Jackie Cilley, Catherine Corkery, Garth Corriveau, Fergus Cullen, Lou D’Allesandro, James Demers, Mike Dennehy, Sean Downey, Steve Duprey, JoAnn Fenton, Jennifer Frizzell, Martha Fuller Clark, Amanda Grady Sexton, Jack Heath, Gary Hirshberg, Jennifer Horn, Peter Kavanaugh, Joe Keefe, Rich Killion, Harrell Kirstein, Sylvia Larsen, Joel Maiola, Kate Malloy Corriveau, Maureen Manning, Steve Marchand, Tory Mazzola, Jim Merrill, Jayne Millerick, Claira Monier, Greg Moore, Matt Mowers, Terie Norelli, Chris Pappas, Liz Purdy, Tom Rath, Colin Reed, Jim Rubens, Andy Sanborn, Dante Scala, William Shaheen, Stefany Shaheen, Carol Shea-Porter, Terry Shumaker, Andy Smith, Craig Stevens, Kathy Sullivan, Chris Sununu, James Sununu, Jay Surdukowski, Donna Sytek, Kari Thurman, Colin Van Ostern, Deb Vanderbeek, Mike Vlacich, Ryan Williams
South Carolina: Andrew Collins, Antjuan Seawright, Barry Wynn, Bob McAlister, Boyd Brown, Brady Quirk-Garvan, Bruce Haynes, Catherine Templeton, Chad Connelly, Chip Felkel, Cindy Costa, Clay Middleton, David Wilkins, Dick Harpootlian, Donna Hicks, Drea Byars, Ed McMullen, Elizabeth Colbert-Busch, Ellen Weaver, Erin McKee, Glenn McCall, Inez Tenenbaum, Isaiah Nelson, Jaime R. Harrison, James Smith, Jason Perkey, Jay W. Ragley, Jim Hodges, Jimmy Williams, Joe Erwin, Joel Sawyer, John Brisini, Kevin Bishop, Kim Wellman, Laurin Manning, Le Frye, Luke Byars, Matt Moore, Mikee Johnson, Morgan Allison, Phil Noble, Scott Farmer, Tony Denny, Trey Walker, Tyler Jones, Walter Whetsell, Warren Tompkins, Will Folks
Nevada: Adam Khan, Andres Ramirez, Andrew Diss, Barbara Buckley, Bob Cavazos, Brendan Summers, Chip Evans, Chuck Muth, Dan Hart, Daniel Stewart, Ed Williams, Emmy Ruiz, Erven T. Nelson, Greg Bailor, Heidi Wixom, Jack St. Martin, James Smack, Jay Gertsema, Jeremy Hughes, Jim DeGraffenreid, Jon Ralston, Kristen Orthman, Laura Martin, Linda Cavazos, Lindsey Jydstrup, Mac Abrams, Mari St. Martin, Marla Turner, Megan Jones, Michael McDonald, Michelle White, Mike Slanker, Neal Patel, Nick Phillips, Oscar Goodman, Pat Hickey, Paul Smith, Pete Ernaut, Peter Koltak, Riley Sutton, Robert Uithoven, Roberta Lange, Ryan Erwin, Ryan Hamilton, Sam Lieberman, Scott Scheid, Yvanna Cancela, Zach Hudson
Kristen Hayford contributed to this report.