The 10 Republicans most likely to win the GOP’s 2016 nod

With just one month to go before the first GOP presidential debate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has surfed a bounce from his official campaign launch to claim the top spot in The Hill’s rankings.

Bush placed second in our most recent rankings in May. 

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The leader in May, Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRyan pledges 'entitlement reform' in 2018 Richard Gere welcomes lawmakers' words of support for Tibet Dem lawmaker gives McConnell's tax reform op-ed a failing grade MORE (Fla.), has drifted to third place as questions deepen over whether his undoubted strengths will translate into victories in early states.

Among the other big movers: Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonVA slashes program that helps homeless veterans obtain housing: report Homelessness rises for first time since recession Moving the US embassy to Jerusalem is the right call MORE has climbed three places to fourth, largely on the back of some surprisingly strong poll results, while Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Democrat slams Donald Trump Jr. for ‘serious case of amnesia’ after testimony Skier Lindsey Vonn: I don’t want to represent Trump at Olympics Poll: 4 in 10 Republicans think senior Trump advisers had improper dealings with Russia MORE, unranked in May, now demands inclusion. The businessman is at No. 8.

1. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (previously 2)

Bush has claimed a clear lead in polling both nationally and in New Hampshire. He runs 7 percentage points ahead of his nearest rival in CNN’s latest national poll and beats the field in New Hampshire by about 5 percentage points, according to the RealClearPolitics (RCP) average.

He’s also expected to have truckloads of cash, meaning he can sustain a long campaign.

That could help him on Super Tuesday, March 1, when 11 states are scheduled to vote. If the race is still competitive by March 15, Bush’s money edge will be augmented by home-court advantage when Florida votes, along with Illinois, Missouri and Oregon.

The bad news:  Despite his national strength, Bush is highly unlikely to win the Iowa caucuses, where he places sixth in the latest major poll, from Quinnipiac University. That ups the stakes for Bush in New Hampshire. If he fails to win the Granite State, he could be in trouble.

2. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (3)

Walker is the favorite in Iowa, where his 17.5 percent support in the RCP average sounds modest but is approximately double the support claimed by his nearest challenger. 

An Iowa win would help Walker position himself as the main conservative challenger to Bush. If he locked in that status with an adequate performance in New Hampshire and a stronger one in more ideologically friendly South Carolina, other conservatives are likely to drop out. Walker would be perfectly placed to hoover up their support.

The bad news: Skeptics question whether Walker, the only top-tier contender not officially in the race, has the personal dynamism to deliver on his potential.

3. Sen. Marco Rubio (1)

Rubio has the potential to expand the Republican tent without unduly antagonizing the base.

The Florida senator also has greater crossover appeal to the different factions within the GOP than any other candidate. He was first elected with Tea Party backing; his hawkish foreign policy positions appeal to national-security conservatives; and his youth, Cuban heritage and charisma lead many in the GOP establishment to believe he would be the party’s strongest choice to take on Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.

The bad news: Rubio is in fourth place in the RCP national polling average and faces a pressing question: Where, exactly, is he going to win?

In Iowa, Rubio is tied for fourth in the RCP average and seventh in the latest major poll. Unlike Bush, he cannot be confident of bouncing right back in New Hampshire, where he is currently running fifth.

If, as seems probable, he fails to win either contest, there is no guarantee South Carolina would prove more hospitable. Rubio may have a broad base, but it’s easy to see how he could find himself 0-3.

4. Ben Carson (7)

It would be hard to find a Beltway insider who believes Carson has a serious shot at becoming the GOP nominee. But he’s polling well ahead of expectations.

Carson is tied for second in the latest major poll in Iowa and third in the RCP national average.

The past two presidential cycles have thrown up Republican candidates whose chances were derided right up until they became serious challengers: former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in 2008 and former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) in 2012. Carson could become the 2016 equivalent.

The bad news: Carson is a poor fit for New Hampshire, which means that any momentum he would pick up from a strong performance in Iowa could quickly dissipate. He has never run for public office before, a fact that could give voters pause. And Carson’s lack of political experience could lead to serious gaffes.

5. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (unchanged)

There’s no denying that Huckabee is an outside bet to end up as the GOP’s standard-bearer. But, unlike several of his rivals, he at least has a plausible path to becoming a major player in the race: do well in the Iowa caucuses, which he won in 2008; minimize the importance of the more liberal New Hampshire; and come back strongly in South Carolina, where many Republican voters share the one-time preacher’s social conservatism.

If all of that goes according to plan, Huckabee could then look forward to March 1, nicknamed “the SEC primary” because Deep South states, including Alabama, Georgia and his native Arkansas, are set to vote as are Tennessee and Texas.

The bad news: Huckabee is not running as strongly as he needs to in Iowa. He is sixth in the RCP average in the state and trailed in eighth in the latest poll, from Quinnipiac.

That could point to a more fundamental problem with his candidacy: Are the fervent conservatives whom his success depends upon being drawn away by Walker and Carson?

Huckabee will only have a real shot if he becomes the clear conservative alternative to a more establishment-friendly front-runner — and it’s hard to see how he gets into that position.

6. Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulLexington mayor launches bid for Congress Trump-free Kennedy Center Honors avoids politics Meet the Iran hawk who could be Trump's next secretary of State MORE (4)

Paul’s backers believed at the outset of the race that the Kentucky senator could expand the appeal of his father, former Rep. Ron Paul (Texas). The theory was based on a sense that the electorate had become more amenable to libertarian ideas and that the younger Paul is a less eccentric figure than his dad.

The bad news: There’s little evidence to support this theory so far. Paul has a decent level of support in both Iowa and New Hampshire, according to the polls, but he is a long-odds bet to win either contest. South Carolina, with a GOP electorate in which social conservatives and military families are well-represented, is an even worse fit. 

7. Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzDebbie Wasserman Schultz marks 10 years as breast cancer survivor Foreign agent registration is no magical shield against Russian propaganda Let Trump be Trump and he'll sail through 2020 MORE (6)

The rationale for a Cruz victory at the outset of his campaign was clear: The combative senator could claim the backing of Tea Party activists and would then augment this base by drawing significant support from foreign policy hawks and social conservatives.

The bad news: It hasn’t happened, at least so far. Cruz languishes in eighth place in the RCP national average and — more damaging to his overall hopes — fills the same spot in the Iowa average.

The “grassroots conservative” lane is a crowded one and, despite the high media profile he enjoys, Cruz is getting squeezed out by Walker, Carson and Huckabee.

8. Donald Trump (unranked)

Trump is clearly on the move in the polls, which earns him a place in these rankings. In three recent polls — one national, one in New Hampshire and one in Iowa — Trump has placed second, second and tied for second, respectively.

It is more likely than ever that he will earn a position in the first two televised GOP debates, which are capped at 10 candidates apiece.

Most Republicans don't think Trump will emerge as the GOP nominee, but he is well-placed to stick around for a long time. 

The bad news:  Even for someone with Trump’s ego, there can be such a thing as bad publicity. Business partners, including NBC and Macy’s, have distanced themselves from him after he made derogatory comments about Mexican immigrants.

9. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (unchanged)

Christie’s hope is that people will warm to his campaigning style — encapsulated by his “telling it like it is” slogan — and be won over by his debating skills. Then, so the theory goes, the maverick-loving voters of New Hampshire will provide him with the kind of Lazarus-like resurrection enjoyed by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008. This boost of momentum will be great enough to propel Christie toward the front of the pack as the most electable Republican in a general election.

The bad news: This is a very, very long shot. Christie has been badly bruised by “Bridgegate,” and social conservatives had not been enthused about him even before that scandal erupted.

It’s not a sure thing that Christie will even make the debate stage — he currently sits in 10th place in the RCP national average. And even if he were to win in New Hampshire — an idea that looks fanciful for now — it’s not at all certain that he could build on that achievement in the more conservative states that follow.

10. Ohio Gov. John Kasich (unranked)

Kasich will likely be the final major figure to join the GOP field, with an announcement expected on July 21. His boosters believe he can carve out a niche as a governor of a large, important state with bipartisan appeal — in essence, a candidate with Christie’s upside and none of the downside.

The bad news: Getting in late to a crowded field is fraught with difficulty — especially if your national profile is modest at best. Kasich has some political strengths, but will voters care? He barely registers in the polls for now.

Dropping out of The Hill’s Top Ten since last time are former Texas Gov. Rick PerryJames (Rick) Richard PerryPerry pictured with falcon, sword during trek to Saudi Arabia Trump promised ‘best people’ would run government — they upended it US oil and gas boom will actually help spur energy revolution MORE and businesswoman Carly Fiorina.

Other also-rans: Former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.), Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP and Dems bitterly divided by immigration We are running out of time to protect Dreamers US trade deficit rises on record imports from China MORE (S.C.), Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former New York Gov. George Pataki.