Fiorina and Rubio surge, as Trump and Carson slide

Debates matter. That’s not a scoop. Yet many doubted whether Marco Rubio’s quality performance last week in California would help him, and the doubts weren’t unreasonable. After all, he had debated very well in Cleveland, yet received no significant bounce.

This time, though, Rubio has been rewarded. A new CNN/ORC poll shows him at 11 percent, up from 3 percent less than two weeks ago. The poll is of Republicans (305 of them) and independents who lean Republican (139 in number). The margin of error is +/-4.5 percent.

11 percent isn’t anything to write about and it doesn’t put the Florida Senator in the top three. However, it does put him in first place, albeit narrowly, among the “establishment candidates” and (is there a difference in the minds of voters?) the candidates who have held public office.

The other good news for Rubio is that he is regarded favorably by more of those surveyed than any candidate other than the likable Dr. Carson. Rubio is regarded favorably by 57 percent (and unfavorably by 16 percent). Carson’s split is 65/10.

Carly Fiorina had an even better debate than Sen. Rubio, and her surge is even more impressive. Like Rubio, she was at 3 percent less than two weeks ago. After the debate, she’s at 15 percent, good for second place (though tied with Carson in effect). And her favorability split, 54/17 is comparable to that of Rubio.

The surge of Rubio and Fiorina comes at the expense of Donald Trump and Ben Carson. All other candidates in this massive field have essentially the same numbers they had in the last CNN/ORC survey, except for Scott Walker (about whom more later).

Trump is down from 32 percent to 24 percent (and at 52/40 on favorability). Carson is down from 19 percent to 14 percent.

Just behind Rubio comes Jeb Bush at 9 percent, and then Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee at 6 percent.

What about Scott Walker? He joins Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal, George Pataki, and Jim Gilmore among those who failed to make it to 1 percent.

That can’t be good for fundraising.

I want to say that there are only six Republican candidates with any shot at the nomination: Trump, Fiorina, Carson, Rubio, Bush, and Cruz (not necessarily in that order). I want to say that Carson’s chance is quite small.

Not long ago, however, Fiorina and Carson wouldn’t have been on my list of candidates with a shot. But we now have seen the candidates debate twice, and I think this makes scuh pronouncements a little more safe, albeit still risky.

Does any candidate outside of my top six have anything in his debate arsenal we haven’t seen yet? If not, then it will be difficult for any to surge the way Rubio and Fiorina have, and the debates are likely to have an impact only among the top half dozen participants.