WASHINGTON -- Dragged down by controversy, Chris Christie is falling far, far behind Hillary Clinton in a potential matchup for the 2016 presidential campaign, according to a new McClatchy-Marist Poll.
Christie still is neck and neck with several possible rivals in an early hypothetical matchup for the Republican presidential nomination. But general election voters are split almost evenly about whether he’s telling the truth about his role in the closing of a bridge in an act of political punishment. And his main claim to fame, that he alone among Republicans could compete against Clinton, has been seriously damaged.
Four weeks ago, he trailed her by 13 points in the poll, 50 percent to 37 percent. Today, he trails by 21 points, 58 percent to 37 percent, faring worse than any other Republican tested except Sarah Palin.
As Christie struggles, Clinton appears to have challenges as well, even as she tests well against the Republican field.
Her record as secretary of state – likely a central focus point for and against her candidacy – draws a mixed verdict from voters, with 51 percent ranking her record as excellent or good and 46 percent calling it fair or poor.
Personally, she’s draws a polarized reaction as well, viewed favorably by 52 percent of voters and unfavorably by 43 percent.
Still, Clinton is prospering when seen against a fractured, largely unknown field of possible Republican rivals.
“People are a long way from forming voting choices,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion in New York. “But right now, Clinton is having her way with the field.”
For months, the blunt, outspoken Christie was widely regarded as the Republican most likely to beat a Democrat in the 2016 presidential election. In November, he won re-election to a second term as New Jersey governor by winning among constituencies that have been lukewarm to other Republicans in recent years, notably Hispanics and women.
Then came the bridge scandal. Officials close to Christie were instrumental in closing some of the bridge lanes linking Fort Lee, N.J., to the George Washington Bridge in a payback to a local mayor who refused to help Christie. Christie made a lengthy, public apology, fired aides involved in the incident and said he was unaware of it.
The barrage of negative news has taken a toll. Last month, 46 percent of registered voters thought Christie was telling the truth, while 32 percent did not. This month, 45 percent said he was being truthful, but 47 percent thought he was not.
Christie’s popularity nosedived. Last month, 29 percent viewed him favorably and 32 percent unfavorably. This month, the unfavorable number ballooned to 46 percent, while those seeing him favorably was roughly the same at 33 percent.
More ominous for Christie: The voters that made him such a threat to Democrats are souring on him.
By 49 percent to 26 percent, independents now view him unfavorably. In the matchup with Clinton, independents now give her a 54 percent to 39 percent advantage.
No other Republican comes close to Clinton. She has a 52-44 edge over 2012 vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, in the news lately as a chief architect of Congress’ budget deal. She tops Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, 53 percent to 44 percent.
Clinton has double-digit leads over Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Her biggest margin is over 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, 62 percent to 35 percent.
Part of Clinton’s advantage, Miringoff said, is that the Republican field remains fractured. Republicans also express skepticism about a candidate from Washington, as 52 percent preferred candidates, notably governors, not tied to the nation’s capital.
Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, Christie and Huckabee top the field, each with 13 percent. Rubio has 12 percent, and Paul and Ryan each have 9 percent. Bush and Palin each have 8 percent, while Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is at 7 percent.
Christie, though, led the field last month at 16 percent, followed by Ryan at 12 percent.
Without Christie or Palin in the race, Huckabee and Rubio tie at the top with 15 percent. Supporters of Christie and Palin scatter to several different candidates, Miringoff said.
This survey of 1,197 adults was conducted Feb. 4-9 by The Marist Poll sponsored in partnership with the McClatchy News Service. Adults residing in the continental United States were interviewed by telephone using live interviewers. Landline telephone numbers were randomly selected based upon a list of telephone exchanges from throughout the nation from ASDE Survey Sampler Inc. The exchanges were selected to ensure that each region was represented in proportion to its population. To increase coverage, this landline sample was supplemented by respondents reached through random dialing of cellphone numbers from Survey Sampling International. The two samples were then combined and balanced to reflect the 2010 census results for age, gender, income, race and region. Results are statistically significant within plus or minus 2.8 percentage points. There are 970 registered voters. The results for this subset are statistically significant within plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. The error margin increases for cross-tabulations.