Donald Trump continues to totally dominate the Republican race -- in both polling and media attention. But, inside the numbers of a new Quinnipiac University national poll on the 2016 field, it's Ted Cruz who looks like the candidate you might want to bet on.
In the ballot test, Cruz is now at 16 percent -- and in a statistical tie for second place with Ben Carson and Marco Rubio. Carson is very much headed in the wrong direction; he was at 23 percent in a Q poll conducted a month ago and is down seven points. Rubio is moving in the right direction (up three points from last month to 17 percent) as is Cruz (up three points). And, Cruz's trend line is quite clear and quite good. He was at five percent in a late July Q poll, seven percent in a September poll and 16 today. Trend lines matter more than anything else in national primary polling and no one this side of Rubio has a better trend line than Cruz.
Dig deeper into the poll and things look even better for the Texas senator. While Cruz is at 16 percent among all Republicans, he runs significantly stronger among three subgroups: "very" conservative voters, tea party supporters and white born-again/evangelical voters. Those subgroups are also the three most important and powerful when it comes to deciding the GOP nominee in 2016.
Among tea partiers, Cruz is tied with Trump at 29 percent -- well ahead of Carson at 17 percent and Rubio at 12. Among evangelicals, Cruz and Trump, again, are tied -- this time at 24 percent-- with Carson at 19 percent and Rubio at 13 . Twenty-nine percent of those who identify as "very" conservative choose Cruz while Trump takes 25 percent, Carson 15 percent and Rubio 11 percent with this group.
The Q poll also shows that Cruz has one very clear edge over Trump as the race moves forward: Almost no one can't see themselves being for him. Just six percent said they could never support Cruz -- a number only matched by Rubio at five percent. By contrast, more than one in four Republicans (26 percent) say they could never vote for Trump, the highest of any candidate in the contest. (Amazingly Jeb Bush, who gets just five percent of the vote in the primary ballot, is second on the "won't vote for" question with 21 percent.)
Cruz is very well liked -- bordering on beloved -- among the most conservative and most passionate elements of the Republican base. Even among those who aren't for him, there is very little resistance to voting for him if it came to that. He is also among the best funded candidates in the race -- second only to Bush in terms of total dollars raised. And, unlike Bush, Cruz has a relatively equal balance between money collected for his campaign ($26.5 million) and for his universe of super PACs ($38 million).
Trump will continue to suck up the vast majority of the energy and media attention in the race. Rubio will, rightly, be touted as the most likely nominee. But, keep your eye on Cruz: He has put himself in absolutely perfect position to make a serious run at the nomination over the next six months.
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