By Justin Sink
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee lead the likely Republican field for the 2016 presidential nomination, according to a new poll released Saturday.
Huckabee and Paul each drew 13 percent of the poll's respondents, published by WPA Opinion Research. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was the only other Republican to garner double digit support, pulling in 11 percent.
"The important thing at this point of the race is staying in the conversation, and the fact that Rand Paul, Huckabee, Bush, Christie and Cruz are all managing to do that bodes well for them long term,” said WPA Research CEO Chris Wilson in a statement.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wisc.), who spent Saturday appearing before a Republican Jewish Coalition meeting in Las Vegas, was the choice of 5 percent of those surveyed. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Sen. Rick Santorum each earned 3 percent, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry rounded out the field with just 1 percent. Of the Republican voters surveyed, nearly two in 10 said they did not have a preference on who would became the GOP's 2016 pick.
Christie, a relative moderate in the group, appeared to be buoyed by Republican voters’ belief he had the best chance to win a general election. Asked who would be able to defeat former secretary of state Hillary Clinton — the heavy favorite for the Democratic nominee, should she decide to run — 13 percent selected both Christie and Paul.
"Christie is clearly not the first choice among GOP voters overall, but when you look at which candidate Republicans believe can beat Hillary Clinton there is evidence that the theory a moderate Republican can beat a liberal Democrat still holds some sway," Wilson said.
The survey also showed that Paul appeared to be earning support from primary voters who had spurned the campaigns of his father, former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas).
“While young voters are his best group, Paul also manages to pull in support from other age groups as well,” Wilson said. “He wins 16 percent of the 65-74 age group. Given that Christie support is driven from the moderate side of the party, his best move may be to move the conversation away from ideology to the idea that he is best positioned to beat Hillary."
On Thursday, the Washington Post reported that Paul was assembling a 50-state support team to assist a possible presidential bid. The Kentucky Republican was also the winner of the CPAC straw poll earlier this month.
But other candidates have also been laying the groundwork for a possible bid. On Wednesday, the Associated Press reported that Huckabee met with dozens of House Republicans at the Republican National Committee headquarter to discuss a bid.
Christie, meanwhile, has undertaken a media blitz following the release of an internal report about the controversy surrounding the closure of lanes on the George Washington Memorial Bridge. Documents suggest that Christie aides ordered the closure as an act of political retaliation.
Bush, meanwhile, also appeared at the Republican Jewish Coalition conference in Las Vegas.