A Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey, released on the eve of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), shows Democrat Hillary Clinton leading the entire GOP field by margins of 7 to 10 percentage points. Her leads over a list of potential Republicans are remarkably consistent across the board. Her margins range from a ten point lead over both Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Florida Governor Jeb Bush (50 to 40 percent in each case) to a smaller 7 point advantage over Texas Governor Rick Perry (48/41), Florida Senator Marco Rubio (48/41) and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (47/40).
Neurosurgeon and presumed Republican presidential hopeful, Ben Carson, who trails Clinton, 48 to 40, kicked off the (CPAC) event Thursday morning. Other GOP hopefuls, including Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and Texas Senator Ted Cruz are also taking the stage on Thursday. Friday’s lineup includes Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Rand Paul (R-KY), as well as Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Texas Governor Rick Perry.
CPAC has become something of an annual tradition, giving ambitious Republicans an opportunity to showcase their ideological purity before a right-wing audience. The event also has a double-edged quality to it, since what plays well before a room full of hardcore conservatives isn’t always what sells to the American electorate as a whole.
Candidates who pander to the far right are sure to generate loud applause in the convention hall. However, sometimes a crowd-pleasing comment that appeals to the Tea Party bitter-enders and the Paulist-libertarian types at CPAC, also serves to turn off the moderate and Independent voters who will decide the outcome of the 2016 election. A smart speaker must navigate the ideological tightrope well enough to satisfy the base while not providing fodder for the media to paint him or her as a partisan extremist. It is not an easy task, given how far right the GOP base has drifted in the past decade.
Many speakers at CPAC will undoubtedly slam Obama because bashing the President is always a sure hit with the coterie of conservative activists assembled. However, the Democrat that the Republican presidential contenders should be concerned about is Hillary Clinton. She is viewed favorably by a higher percentage of national voters than any of the Republican candidates, and she leads each GOP contender by a solid margin.
Clinton is by no means invincible. Her 45/47 favorable rating suggests she could be vulnerable to a strong candidate under the right circumstances. The problem, for the GOP, however, is that despite sporting a very large field of presidential contenders, they don’t have any particularly strong candidates.
Ironically, the CPAC convention, designed to showcase the Republican candidates, may actually make matters worse. As Republicans try to burnish the conservative credentials before a fiercely partisan crowd, they risk pushing more and more moderate voters off the fence, and into Hillary Clinton’s camp for 2016. She already has a solid lead over every Republican contender. If the GOP candidates pander too much to the hard right, Clinton’s already decisive lead could grow even larger in the months ahead.