Hillary Clinton’s Advantage, 15-20% and Counting

Photograph by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at the 10th National Automobile Dealers Association Convention on Jan. 27, 2014 in New Orleans.

Hillary Clinton is sitting on top of the political world.

For all the talk about potential challengers within her own party for the 2016 presidential nomination, and match-ups with the best-known Republicans, the former secretary of state, senator from New York and first lady holds a daunting advantage in early opinion polls.

Underscore early.

Ask Chris Christie, whose stock has tumbled in one month.

Much of the Republican ranking at this stage has more to do with deficits in name-recognition than anything else, recognition that comes with a campaign. The polling on party preferences at this stage finds few Republicans cracking into double-digits.

And certainly Clinton has the sort of universal name recognition that money can’t buy. For all the controversy over the fatal attack on the U.S. outpost in Benghazi, Libya, stirred by talk radio and TV and, yes, Bill O’Reilly, 62 percent of Americans surveyed for CNN by ORC International say they approve of the job she did as America’s diplomat-in-chief. That’s a slide from 71 percent who approved of her work at the start of her tenure at State, but that’s not a lot of political capital to lose in four tough years. It’s also stronger than the 49 percent who say they approve of the job her successor, John Kerry, is doing at State.

And 70 percent of Democrats surveyed say they’d be most likely to support her for the party’s nomination in 2016.

This translates into big gaps in possible match-ups: Clinton holds a 15-20 percentage-point advantage over any Republican named in the survey. Among registered voters surveyed Jan. 31 through Feb. 2:

It’s Clinton 55 percent, Christie, 39.

Clinton 57, Jeb Bush 37.

Clinton 56, Mike Huckabee 39.

Clinton 57, Rand Paul 39.

Clinton 55, Paul Ryan 40.

Christie, the New Jersey governor, has been sliding in these match-ups since the start of the “Bridgegate” scandal in the Garden State, where he has apologized for lane closures at the George Washington Bridge last fall  that froze the town of Fort Lee while maintaining he knew nothing of the apparently political motivated traffic jam at the time.

Mid-January, Clinton had 13 points on Christie in a NBC News/Marist poll. In late December, Clinton and Christie matched up in a statistical tie in a CNN/Opinion Research survey — Clinton 46, Christie 48.

The moment any of the above Republicans step into a traffic jam like Christie’s, they are also likely to lose some of that early ground they hold today. The moment any of the above start making their intentions known, they are likely to start closing some of the gap.

The polls really don’t mean all that much at the moment — except that Hillary Clinton is in a pretty good place.

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