A new poll of likely New Hampshire Republican primary voters once again puts New York businessman Donald Trump in the lead, but it also shows a quickly shifting and intense fight for second place.
Notably, former Florida governor Jeb Bush has moved into a four-way statistical tie for second place in the survey, along with Ohio Governor John Kasich, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, and Florida Senator Marco Rubio.
Trump had 27 percent, while Cruz and Kasich had 12 percent, Bush had 11 percent, and Rubio had 10 percent in the survey. Another 12 percent of likely Republican primary voters said they were undecided in the Feb. 9 contest.
"Donald Trump's loyal 27 percent continues to stand tall in New Hampshire," said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center in Boston. "The 27 percent isn't a skyscraper, but it towers over the four candidates vying for second place. One of those four candidates needs a big Iowa surprise to create momentum so that he can break into the 20 percent range in New Hampshire."
The poll comes as good news for Bush. For the second time this week, a survey has shown him in second place in New Hampshire. Meanwhile, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie dropped to just 6 percent in the poll. As recently as December, surveys consistently showed him in second place with around 12 percent.
The poll also showed uneasiness among some Republicans if Trump becomes the nominee — especially if former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg runs as an independent. The New York Times reported recently Bloomberg was considering a national bid.
In a hypothetical general election matchup with Trump, 10 percent of New Hampshire Republican primary voters said they would vote for Hillary Clinton and another 10 percent said they would pick Bloomberg. When Trump and Bloomberg were matched against Bernie Sanders, 18 percent of likely Republican voters said they would support the senator from Vermont.
"This finding signals that not only would a Trump nomination lose votes to the Democrat and independent candidates, it would suppress Republican turnout, at least in New Hampshire," Paleologos said. "This is the place where Trump's negatives are quantifiable. If you are the GOP, you can't afford to lose a quarter of the vote from among the best Republican primary voters."
New Hampshire Republicans said terrorism and national security were the most important issues to them, followed by the economy and illegal immigration in the poll.
The poll of 500 likely Republican primary voters was taken Monday to Wednesday and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.
James Pindell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.