Poll: Cruz and Trump Tied for Lead Among California Republicans

(San Jose Mercury News/TNS) -

Ted Cruz has surged to the top of the pack of Republican presidential candidates in California, a new Field poll shows, mirroring the Texas senator’s rapid rise in early-primary states across the nation.

Cruz and Donald Trump are now knotted in a statistical dead heat for top support among California’s likely GOP voters six months before the state’s primary.

The poll may mark the end of the blustery billionaire businessman’s dominance in California. It shows Cruz probably has room to grow his Golden State support even further while Trump’s already might be maxed out.

“Cruz is probably the chief beneficiary of the declines of two other candidates who were doing much better in our last poll, in October: Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina,” Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo said Monday. “And he’s positioning himself very adroitly to benefit from the departure of other candidates.”

Cruz is the top choice of 25 percent of Republican likely voters while Trump is the first pick for 23 percent, a lead that’s within the 5.6-percentage-point margin of error for the poll of 325 GOP voters conducted Dec. 16 through Sunday. Three months ago, Cruz trailed Trump by 11 percentage points and was in sixth place in Field’s California poll.

The latest poll finds U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., in third place with 13 percent support, and support for Carson — the neurosurgeon who had placed second behind Trump in October’s Field Poll — is now at 9 percent. Fiorina, the former Hewlett Packard CEO and former Los Altos Hills resident, has fallen 10 points since October and now has 3 percent support, tied for seventh place with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Despite the narrow gap between Cruz and Trump, other poll results show Trump might be in a weaker position than either Cruz or Rubio. Only 11 percent of likely GOP voters name Trump as their second-choice pick, while twice as many — 22 percent — say so about Cruz, and 14 percent name Rubio as their second choice.

Also, 45 percent of California Republican primary voters have an unfavorable view of Trump, while only 20 percent say so of Cruz and 26 percent say so of Rubio. And 43 percent of GOP voters say they would be dissatisfied or upset if Trump winds up their nominee, while only 21 percent say so of Cruz and 24 percent say so of Rubio.

Cruz’s fundraisers in Beverly Hills and Newport Beach made Dec. 16 the campaign’s most lucrative day so far, said Ron Nehring, a former state GOP chairman who chairs Cruz’s California campaign. Volunteers from all over the state converged on Los Angeles to see Cruz at an organizing meeting during that same visit — denoting Cruz’s support by big donors and grassroots alike. Cruz raised almost $20 million nationwide in 2015’s final quarter, on top of the $26 million he had reported raising by the end of September.

“That has been a consistent, central part of our approach — to unite conservatives behind a single, well-funded candidate,” Nehring said.

DiCamillo said the new poll left him surprised by “the weakness of Jeb Bush within his own party.” Bush is now in 6th place as the first choice of 4 percent of California’s Republican likely voters, down from 8 percent support in October, 11 percent last May and 16 percent last February.

The former Florida governor’s efforts to break out of his downward spiral have failed, and for a guy who had started out as a presumed frontrunner, “he really has not played that role very well,” DiCamillo said.

Nationally, Trump still tops the surging Cruz by 16 percentage points, according to an average of recent polls compiled by Real Clear Politics. But Cruz leads Trump by four points in Iowa, while in New Hampshire, Trump leads second-place Rubio by 13 points and Cruz by 14.