Carson rockets up GOP rankings as Bush falls to 5th, Kasich to 6th

Two political outsiders are atop The Hill’s Republican presidential rankings three months away from the Iowa caucuses.

The rankings — which are based on polling, debate performances and discussions with campaign experts — are aimed at answering one question: Who is likely to win the party’s nomination?

{mosads}Since The Hill’s rankings were last published on Aug. 31, Ben Carson has seized significant momentum. He has risen four places, to second from sixth. Moving almost as sharply in the opposite direction, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has slid from second place to fifth. Bush topped The Hill’s rankings in July. 

Other big movers are Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, up three places to fourth, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, down three places to sixth. 

The GOP’s presidential candidates will face off for a third time Wednesday evening at a debate in Boulder, Colo.

1. Businessman Donald Trump (Aug. 31 ranking: 1)

Trump’s demise has been predicted by pundits ever since he first rose to the top of the Republican field in mid-July. Despite all of that, he remains the clear leader, ahead in poll averages nationally, in New Hampshire and in South Carolina. He has only recently been pushed into second by Carson in Iowa. Those poll ratings, plus his capacity to fund his own campaign, keep the real estate tycoon at the No. 1 spot.

The bad news: The polling out of Iowa leaves little doubt that Trump has been overtaken by Carson. That suggests his popularity can be dented and gives new urgency to questions about whether Trump would be willing to submit himself to the rigors of a long dog fight for the nomination.


2. Former surgeon Ben Carson (Aug. 31 ranking: 6)

Carson has the wind at his back, especially in Iowa. His lead in the state is almost 9 percentage points, according to the -RealClearPolitics (RCP) average. The doctor’s low-key, affable demeanor has served him better than many had expected in the two debates so far. In the third quarter, he raised more money than any other Republican candidate, taking in $21 million.

The bad news: Carson has not faced the same intense level of media scrutiny as other leading candidates. Some inflammatory statements he made have not seemed to hurt him, but being called out on a policy question in a high-profile setting could be more damaging. 


3. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (Aug. 31 ranking: 5)

Rubio’s team has long claimed it wants the Florida senator to peak at the right time. That thesis sounds a lot more plausible now than it did even a few months ago. Rubio has been moving up the poll rankings and now sits at third nationally, in Iowa and in South Carolina, according to the RCP average, and fourth in New Hampshire. The degree to which he has become a target of barbs from the Bush campaign, in particular, is a sign of his strength. 

The bad news: No one doubts Rubio’s political assets on paper, but one of the questions that has dogged his candidacy from the start remains: Where is he going to win? That’s just not clear. As a charismatic, first-term senator, he is also vulnerable to being painted as a Republican Barack Obama.


4. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (Aug. 31 ranking: 7)

Cruz, like Rubio, had at one point struggled for traction but is now at a point where there is a plausible path for him. He needs to perform very strongly in at least two of the three first states to vote, Iowa and South Carolina; RCP averages have the senator in fourth place in both. He could claim the votes of fervent conservatives who worry about Trump’s and Carson’s lack of political experience.

The bad news: His path to victory is largely predicated on the idea that other conservative candidates will damage their own chances. There are also persistent doubts about Cruz’s likability and questions about whether he could defeat Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton in the general election.


5. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (Aug. 31 ranking: 2)

Virtually nothing has gone right for Bush of late. He remains becalmed in the polls, has had to slash his campaign spending, and his propensity to insert his foot in his mouth remains undiminished. But Bush aides still believe that he can overtake Rubio in the polls, perform well in New Hampshire and recover his mantle of the mainstream candidate who can stop Trump.

The bad news: Bush is now perilously close to having the stench of a loser around him. This year’s restless, insurgent-friendly GOP voters may simply have decided they don’t want to buy what he’s selling.


6. Ohio Gov. John Kasich (Aug. 31 ranking: 3)

An early Kasich mini-surge in New Hampshire appears to have petered out. He performed well in the first debate before a home crowd in Ohio but was a marginal figure the second time around, in Simi Valley, Calif. The former House member is sixth in the RCP average in New Hampshire, which is not good enough to vault him into real contention.

The bad news: Kasich is behind his main establishment rivals, Bush and -Rubio, in New Hampshire. If he doesn’t perform well there, he’s done.


7. Businesswoman Carly Fiorina (Aug. 31 ranking: 9)

The former Hewlett-Packard CEO needs to make as big an impact in Boulder as she did in her first two debates if she is to overcome the sense that she has had her 15 minutes of political fame.

The bad news: Fiorina’s poll ratings rose sharply in the wake of the second debate but have crashed since then. In a nationwide CNN/ORC poll, for instance, she scored 4 percent earlier this month, down from 15 percent a month before. 


8. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (Aug. 31 ranking: 8)

While Huckabee has not made glaring strategic errors in this campaign, the former governor has simply been overshadowed by candidates who are fresher to the scene. 

The bad news: In Iowa, the state where Huckabee would need to win or place to have a credible shot, he is tied for ninth place in the RCP average with 2 percent support. There is no way back from there.


9. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (Aug. 31 

ranking: Unranked) 

The New Jersey governor remains adept at getting media coverage. He has placed all his chips on New Hampshire, by far the most hospitable terrain for him among the early contests. Christie is betting that his ebullient style on the stump will pay off.

The bad news: His campaign hasn’t taken off, and there are no real signs that it will. Christie’s position in the Granite State is akin to Huckabee’s in Iowa: Needing to do well, he’s ninth in the RCP average, with 3.3 percent support.


10. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (Aug. 31 ranking: 10)

One moment has typified Paul’s disappointing run. Earlier this month, he and his campaign staff decided to live-stream an entire day on the campaign trail. He was prompted to address some online questions about him, including one about whether he was still in the presidential race. 

“I wouldn’t be doing this dumbass live-streaming if I weren’t, so yes, I’m running for president, get over it,” the senator responded.

The bad news: It seems increasingly clear that Paul, and elements of the news media, wildly overestimated his chances, assuming the libertarian strain in the GOP was more significant than it has turned out to be. Some Republicans want Paul to quit the race and focus on his reelection race in Kentucky.

Outside The Hill’s Top 10: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former New York Gov. George Pataki and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore.

Tags Ben Carson Carly Fiorina Chris Christie Donald Trump Jeb Bush John Kasich Marco Rubio Mike Huckabee Rand Paul Ted Cruz

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