Chris Christie: Republicans’ best hope in 2016?

ASBURY PARK, NJ - NOVEMBER 05: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie arrives to speak at his election night event after winning a second term at the Asbury Park Convention Hall on November 05, 2013 in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Incumbent Governor Chris Christie defeated his Democratic opponent Barbara Buono by a commanding margin. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
Kena Betancur, Getty Images

Even with all the caveats about the near-uselessness of 2016 presidential polls at this early stage, a clear fault line seems to be emerging among the potential Republican contenders: On one side, you have Chris Christie; on the other side, you have everyone else.

In several recent polls, the popular New Jersey governor has vaulted to the top of the GOP nominating contest, boasting a moderate but clear lead over the rest of the field.

Perhaps even more important, in the eyes of electability-minded Republicans: surveys also reveal Christie as the only Republican who could run competitively against Democratic frontrunner-in-waiting Hillary Clinton.

 The latest evidence of Christie’s rise came on Friday, with a new poll from Fox News showing the New Jersey governor at the head of the GOP pack with 16 percent support among prospective Republican primary voters. His closest rivals, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., and former Gov. Jeb Bush, R-Fla., were tied at 12 percent apiece. That result is consistent with other recent surveys that showed Christie narrowly atop his class.

The prospective 2016 Democratic field has long been dominated by Clinton, the former secretary of state and first lady who remains enormously popular among Democrats nationwide, but the GOP race has generally been more fluid. If Christie is able to build on his modest lead, it could mark an early turning point in the competition.

And in a CNN/ORC International poll released Thursday, Christie was also the only Republican who remained remotely competitive with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a hypothetical general election match-up. In that survey, 48 percent of registered voters threw their support behind Christie, and 46 percent supported Clinton, a result within the margin of error.

While Christie guarded a narrow lead, the rest of the Republicans in the survey were thoroughly trounced by Clinton: Ryan kept her within eight points, Cruz trailed her by 18 points, and Bush lagged by 21 points.

The result was in keeping with other recent polls that have shown Clinton easily outpacing all Republican contenders save Christie.

CNN polling director Keating Holland attributed Christie’s strong showing to his crossover appeal. “He performs particularly well among independents, winning nearly 6 in 10 in that key group," he explained. "He also wins a majority of suburbanites and older voters, something that no other GOP hopeful tested was able to do against Clinton."

CNN’s poll surveyed 950 registered voters nationwide between December 16 and 19, and it has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.

The GOP primary results in Fox’s poll were based on a survey of 376 registered voters. The full poll, conducted between December 14-16, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.