By Alexander Bolton - 04/01/15 06:00 AM EDT
Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonWATCH LIVE: Trump rallies supporters in Virginia 15 reminders of the real Donald Trump Gennifer Flowers says she will attend debate MORE’s email problems are taking a bite out of her approval ratings, raising the GOP’s confidence that she can be defeated in 2016.
A new poll released Tuesday by Quinnipiac University found Clinton trailing former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the Sunshine State and enjoying only a 2 percentage point lead over Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
In February, she led both — with a 10-point lead on Rubio.
Quinnipiac pollster Peter A. Brown attributed the figures to news stories about Clinton’s decision not to use a government email address while she served as secretary of State, saying it was “taking a toll” on her public image.
Republicans have seized on the controversy to tarnish the clear front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. On Tuesday, the GOP chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi asked Clinton for an interview before May 1 to discuss her use of a private email account at the State Department and reports that she wiped her private server clean.
The request comes as Clinton is gearing up for an expected announcement later this month that she will run for president.
The field of GOP candidates hoping to take on Clinton is growing by the day, with Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) becoming the first Republican to formally enter the race last week. Paul is expected to make an announcement next week, and Rubio could follow the week after.
The deep bench of potential GOP challengers, which could also include Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, is also emboldening Republicans.
“I think people are feeling optimistic, and it’s really based on our candidates and our plan and vision for the future. I think our country is really ready for a change,” said Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.).
“This is a talented group with a variety of backgrounds,” he said of the emerging GOP field.
“I think a lot of us believe that we have an opportunity,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, said when asked about the chances of capturing the White House next year.
But McCain warned his party could fumble its chance by becoming embroiled in internecine warfare or failing to reach out to Hispanic voters, an increasingly crucial bloc in presidential elections.
“We have to show we can govern,” he said. “There’s one other issue, and that’s immigration reform.”
Republicans are hoping Clinton’s email controversy will raise new concerns among voters about her. It has pumped new energy into the panel looking into the Obama administration’s handling of the 2012 attacks on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya.
The GOP has long seen Benghazi as fertile ground, and Republicans hope to make a case against Clinton’s character.
The Quinnipiac poll shows 50 percent of voters in Florida say Clinton is not honest or trustworthy, while only 41 percent say she is. Her favorability rating in the state is 49 percent positive, down 4 points from a month ago.
Ron Kaufman, who served as a senior adviser to Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, said the controversy over Clinton’s email raises questions of trustworthiness.
“I do believe the two twin killers in politics that hurt people more than anything else are arrogance and hypocrisy. They kill people,” he said.
“Everybody know she’s being totally arrogant — ‘I’ll decide myself how I’ll handle my emails.’ The hypocrisy of pretending to be transparent really hurts her,” he added.
Democrats argue that Clinton maintains a sizable lead in the polls and predict GOP candidates will begin to get into their own trouble as the race gears up.
“There’s not one person right now, when you match them head to head, who is even in Clinton’s weight class,” said Rodell Mollineau, a Democratic strategist.
Adrienne Watson, the communications director for Correct The Record, a group dedicated to defending Clinton, accused Republicans of reveling in political inanity.
“Secretary Clinton is talking about the future; about better jobs for working and middle class Americans, Republicans are talking about a poll a year and a half before Election Day because they have no plan for America’s future,” she said.
“Manufactured scandals, politicizing an American tragedy like Benghazi and wanting into a person’s personal emails will not work for the Republican politicians,” she added.
Clinton has a major advantage over potential Republican opponents in that she faces a lightly contested path to the nomination. She has a huge lead over all likely Democratic candidates, according to polls.
“No amount of money or organization is going to erase Jeb Bush’s family name or his brother’s legacy,” Mollineau said. “As much as he says he’s his own man, it seems the advisers he’s collecting are a redux of the Bush-Cheney administration.”