Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio on NBC’s Meet the Press. (Courtesy William B Plowman, NBC)

Marco Rubio leads crowded 2016 GOP field, poll says

The political 800-pound gorilla for the Democratic Party is whether Hillary Clinton will run for president in 2016. Other top contenders sit frozen, waiting for the former senator and Secretary of State to tip her hand. But the Republican party is a completely different animal.

The Public Mind poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University says Marco Rubio is leading a crowded field of GOP contenders for the 2016 presidential election. Rubio leads with 18 percent support, followed by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush with 16 percent, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie at 14 percent and 2012 presidential candidate Rick Santorum (9 percent).

“Republican uncertainty mirrors the identity crisis the party is facing as it redefines its message in the aftermath of the 2012 presidential loss,” said Krista Jenkins, professor of political science and director of PublicMind. “Republican voters seem to be saying they remain on the lookout for their party’s Mr. or Mrs. Right.”

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But in a party that has continually leaned towards identifying the right conservative candidate to spread their message, Republican voters may be currently identifying Rubio as the GOP’s heir apparent. Rubio leads Bush 20 percent to 16 percent among those voters who identify as politically conservative.

As Rubio emerges as a young but serious leader in the Republican party, he can only hope he gains the support and name recognition enjoyed by Clinton. Among self-identified Democrats and those who lean Democrat, 63 percent of those polled support the former Secretary of State. Vice President Joe Biden finds himself woefully behind at 12 percent and 3 percent support New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Numbers like those show that the Republican parties greatest advantage is that time is on their side. While Clinton has receded from public view, Rubio has found himself front and center, helping to craft immigration reform legislation with the so-called “Gang of 8” bipartisan Senators.

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