Over the weekend, I discussed a Bloomberg-Des Moines Register poll that puts Dr. Ben Carson within 5 points of Donald Trump (23-18) among likely Iowa caucus-goers. I speculated that Carson was a better fit than Trump for Iowa Republicans given his geniality and unfeigned social conservatism.
Now, a freshly-minted Monmouth poll has Carson tied with Trump at 23 percent. According to Monmouth, this marks the first time since late July that a poll in any of the first four nominating states has not shown Trump in the lead.
No one else in the Republican field has half the level of support enjoyed by Trump and Carson. Carly Fiorina is third in the poll at 10 percent, making this a clean sweep for candidates who have never held public office. Fiorina is followed by Ted Cruz (9 percent), Scott Walker (7 percent), Jeb Bush (5 percent), John Kasich (4 percent), Marco Rubio (4 percent), and Rand Paul (3 percent).
The two most recent Iowa caucus victors, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, have the support of only 2 percent in this poll. How quickly they forget.
Walker’s decline is breathtaking. In late July, he led the field in Iowa with 22 percent. Now he has less than a third of that support.
The Iowa race remains fluid. Only 12 percent of likely Republican caucus-goers say they are completely decided on which candidate they will support in February. 42 percent say they have a strong preference now but are willing to consider other candidates. Trump does slightly better than Carson among those who claim their mind is made up.
Men prefer Trump to Carson by 27-17, but Carson fares better (30-19) among women. Is this the Megyn Kelly effect. More likely, it’s a natural outgrowth of how the two candidates come across, accentuated a little bit by a Kelly effect.
It hardly needs to be noted that there’s a long time to go between now and actual caucusing in Iowa. Opinion could change significantly as early as mid-September, when the Republicans hold their next debate on CNN.
In the meantime, Trump must decide how to deal with Carson. Until now, he has reserved tough criticism for the two candidates perceived as frontrunners (Bush and Walker) and the candidates who have gone after him (Graham, Perry, and Paul).
Notwithstanding Carson’s surge, there’s no compelling reason for Trump to attack the good Doctor at this early juncture; indeed doing so might prove counterproductive. But Trump may find it irresistible to go after the man who has broken his stranglehold on the early polls.