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November 29, 2013 11:49 AM Remembering the Irresistible Force of Rudy ‘08

By Ed Kilgore

So there is a new poll out today from CNN/ORC that is sure to blow some more hot air into the early trial balloons of Chris Christie:

A new national poll indicates, that for the first time, there may be an early frontrunner in the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination….
The poll, released Friday morning, indicates that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, fresh off his Garden State re-election landslide victory and widespread national media attention, jumped to the top of the pack of potential contenders for the GOP nomination.

I had, of course, to go back and look at a CNN poll at this stage in the 2008 cycle, when a similarly situated northeastern “moderate” Republican named Rudy Giuliani was running for president. And sure enough, in December 2005:

If the results of a recent poll pan out, voters will see two big names from New York on the ballot in November 2008.
Those names are Democrat Hillary Clinton, the state’s junior U.S. senator, and Republican Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York City.

Yeah, the reference to Hillary’s dominant position early in the 2008 cycle is a bonus.

But Rudy led the pack near the end of 2005 with 30% of the vote, with eventual nominee John McCain (who was on the brink of the financial meltdown that would soon make his candidacy fade for a while) at 22%, Condi Rice (!) at 18%, George Allen (remember him?) at 7%, and Bill Frist and Mitt Romney at 3%.

Clearly, name ID is a powerful thing early in a presidential cycle.

But looking strictly at the current cycle, it’s interesting to see who gained and who lost in that CNN/ORC poll as compared to its September predecessor. Yes, Christie picked up seven points. But Ted Cruz also gained 3 points (from 7 to 10), and Rand Paul held steady (with 13%). The big losers were Paul Ryan (down 5 from 16% to 11%) and Jeb Bush (down from 10% to 6%). We are probably seeing a slow consolidation of non-Tea Party GOP support behind Christie, but no actual shift away from the conservative domination of the party. As with McCain in 2008 and Romney in 2012, a Christie win would probably require heavy base-pandering and a crowded field of conservatives with weaknesses that keep any one of them from putting away their rivals.

And if Chrlstie doesn’t succeed in winning over skeptical conservative voters, then he could easily be just like Rudy: an irresistible force on paper who led the field til the actual voting began.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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