Marco Rubio has been criticized, perhaps with some justification, for acting on Monday night almost as if he won the Iowa caucuses, rather than finishing third. But polling in New Hampshire (and at least one national poll) suggests that Rubio is getting the biggest bounce of any GOP candidate out of Iowa.
The New Hampshire polls tell conflicting stories, however, on the crucial question of how close Rubio (and Ted Cruz) are to Donald Trump less than a week before the New Hampshire vote.
A CNN/WMUR poll contains the best news for Rubio. It has Trump at 29 percent and Rubio at 18 (Cruz is in third place with 13 percent, one point ahead of John Kasich). In late January, Rubio was in third place in this poll with 11 percent, compared to Trump’s 30 percent. Cruz was in second place with 12 percent.
The 11 point gap in the latest CNN/WMUR poll seems surmountable (though tough to surmount) with another strong debate performance. (However, Rubio will probably be under constant attack from all sides).
But a UMass Lowell/7News tracking poll has Rubio 21 points behind Trump. Its results nearly mirror the pre-Iowa results of CNN/WWMUR. Trump is at 36 percent; Rubio at 15 percent; and Cruz at 14 percent. Rubio’s position reflects improvement over the last purely pre-Iowa UMass Lowell/7News tracking poll (which had Trump at 38 percent; Cruz at 14; and Rubio at 10). So it confirms that Rubio has surged. But the Florida Senator can’t expect to make up a 21 point deficit (if that’s what it really is) between now and next Tuesday.
Two other New Hampshire polls — one by ARG and the other by Harper — align with the UMass Lowell poll. Trump is ahead of Rubio by 20 points and 17 points, respectively. But these polls were taken a little earlier than the other two, and so presumably do not capture the full extent of a Rubio surge.
All of the polls contain bad news for the chasing field. Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and Chris Christie have all desperately been seeking at least a third place finish in the Granite State. At times each has been in or around the top three in polls.
After Iowa, however, the chasing field seems to have lost ground. This appears must starkly in the UMass Lowell survey, in which Bush, Kasich, and Christie are at 8, 7, and 4, respectively. CNN/WMUR, by contrast, has Kasich just one point behind Cruz, with Bush not far back. But that still represents a decline for Kasich, who had been in second in several pre-Iowa polls.
New Hampshire voters often reject what Iowa caucus-goers do. Thus, we might well see a reversion to pre-Iowa levels for some of the candidates, especially if the chasing pack is able to make its attacks on Rubio resonate. Moreover, another debate will occur before the New Hampshire voting. And a large percentage of New Hampshire voters (like the caucus-goers in Iowa) probably won’t make their final decision until Election Day.
Thus, the latest polls shouldn’t be taken as gospel. The situation probably remains fluid.
But if, as the polls indicate, New Hampshire produces the same top three as Iowa (in whatever order), then at least two of three main chasers — Bush, Kasich, and Christie — will probably quit the race. The long-anticipated great winnowing probably will soon occur.
UPDATE: Polling during the next few days may have a significance I didn’t discuss above. Mitt Romney is reportedly thinking about making an endorsement just before the New Hampshire primary. If he endorses anyone, it is likely to be Rubio.
According to CNN, those trying to persuade Romney to endorse Rubio think they need to show him data to support the view that Rubio has a decent shot at defeating Trump in New Hampshire. Romney is always said to want data.
The polls discussed above, even the one from CNN/WMUR, might not show enough of a Rubio surge to persuade Romney. But another day or two of improving Rubio numbers might do the trick.
Assuming that the CNN report is accurate.
MORE POLLS: Two new polls are out and they provide conflicting pictures. WBUR finds no Rubio surge. It has Trump up by 17 points over Rubio and Cruz (both at 12 percent).
But the Boston Globe/Suffolk finds only a 10 point spread (29-19) between Trump and Rubio. Cruz is in fifth place with only 7 percent.