Romney Tops the List of 2016 GOP Presidential Hopefuls
Policy + Politics

Romney Tops the List of 2016 GOP Presidential Hopefuls

REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Despite his repeated insistence he will not run a third time for president, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney sits atop a massive field of GOP presidential aspirants in a new national survey by Quinnipiac University released on Wednesday.

One of the first major post-election surveys of the presidential landscape shows that 19 percent of Republican voters say they would like to see Romney run again for the White House in 2016, despite his loss to President Obama in 2012. Romney is followed in this GOP popularity contest by former Florida governor Jeb Bush, with 11 percent support, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Dr. Ben Carson, who both attracted eight percent support.

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With Romney out of the race, Bush would lead with 14 percent, followed by Christie at 11 percent, Carson at nine percent and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky with eight percent, according to the poll. Another 19 percent of those interviewed are undecided.

It’s way too soon to speculate on who will come out on top in the 2016 battle for the Republican presidential nomination, but a new Quinnipiac University national poll shows that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is virtually unbeatable for the Democratic presidential nomination. If Clinton for some reason decides not to run, Democratic voters say they would favor Vice President Joe Biden over Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, 34 percent to 25 percent.

Romney has frequently signaled that he was unwilling to put himself and his family through the ringer of another presidential contest, although his responses more recently have been less Shermanesque than his previous strong denials. When Mitt Romney was asked if he was considering running for president in 2016 for a New York Times magazine article published in late September, he replied, "We'll see what happens." 

The Washington Post reported recently that since the Republicans swept to power in Congress in the Nov. 4 midterm election, Romney has “cemented his role” as one of the GOP’s premier behind-the scenes players. He has been nurturing his relationship with members of Congress he campaigned for and is staying in touch with veteran consultants.

At the same time, some of Romney’s confidants are continuing to lay the groundwork for another presidential campaign if Romney ultimately concludes he has the best chance of taking on Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 general election.

Related: How About This 2016 Matchup? Clinton vs. Romney

Ron Bonjean, a veteran Republican operative, said today that Romney’s strong showing in the new survey – similar to other polling results this year - is not surprising given his solid name recognition and the chaotic Republican presidential field.

“Voters are looking for an alternative to President Obama’s leadership, and because they don’t follow presidential politics as closely as Washington does, the first person to come into their minds is probably Mitt Romney,” he said.

That will change gradually over time, as the list of nearly 16 possible GOP candidates is winnowed down. “It’s a deep Republican bench, but that bench isn’t going to thin for a while,” Bonjean said.

Bush, the brother and the son of two former Republican presidents – George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, respectively - also is blessed with strong name recognition. However, many voters are not familiar with his record as a Florida governor or his more liberal views on immigration and education reform.

Jeb Bush riled many conservatives in his party by declaring that support of immigration reform – including providing a path to citizenship – was an “act of love.” He also has strongly endorsed the national Common Core educational system, which has many detractors within the GOP.

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"Jeb Bush has many assets and must be considered one of the frontrunners," said Craig Shirley, a conservative writer and Reagan biographer. "He was a successful governor and has the name of a family that has a relatively high batting average in presidential contests. He would also be one of the few moderates in a sea of conservatives,” Shirley noted.

Shirley added that the Bush name could be a problem for Jeb. "While his father is now revered, his brother’s eight years still grate on many people, including conservatives in the GOP.… Most people don’t see breaking and entering the country as an 'act of love,'" Shirley said.  

In hypothetical matchups in the poll, Romney runs best against Clinton, the all-but-certain Democratic presidential nominee in 206, taking 45 percent of the overall vote to 44 percent for Clinton. The former secretary of state and First Lady holds a slight one-point lead over Christie in a matchup, and she would beat Bush by a margin of 46 percent to 41 percent.

Yet Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, said in a statement, “Jeb Bush looms large in second place.”

The Quinnipiac poll, conducted Nov. 18 to 23, surveyed 1,623 registered voters nationwide with a margin of error of +/- 2.4 percentage points.  

The Fiscal Times’ Maureen Mackey contributed to this report. 

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