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Presidential Horse Race 2016: Donald Trump leads for 100 days

With mere days to go until the third Republican presidential debate, we end the week with something new – a reputable poll showing someone other than Donald Trump in the lead.

Eliza Collins of Politico reports, “Ben Carson has surged past Donald Trump in Iowa, according to a Quinnipiac University poll of likely Republican caucus participants out Thursday.

Donald Trump“The retired neurosurgeon leads the Republican field with 28 percent, while Trump has fallen behind with 20 percent. A September survey had Trump at 27 percent, and Carson at 21 percent.”

Marco Rubio takes third place in the survey at 13 percent, followed by Ted Cruz with 10 percent. Rand Paul took 6 percent. Carly Fiorina and Jeb Bush both were at 5 percent. Everyone else was 3 percent or below.

(Note: It’s interesting to see Rubio rise in Iowa, because he hasn’t spent nearly as much time there as his opponents.)

We figured Carson would do well with Iowa’s significant Evangelical social conservative population, but to gain so much so fast is surprising. Fueling his rise is what is described as an almost “unheard-of favorability rating” of 84/10 among Republicans who say they’re likely caucus-goers.

By contrast, Trump’s is 53/43.

“84 percent of those polled said [Carson] shares their values and 89 percent felt he is honest and trustworthy. He also topped other candidates when it came to caring about voters' needs and problems — 87 percent felt he did,” Collins added.

Particularly alarming for Trump is the number of respondents who said they’d never vote for him – 30 percent. Jeb Bush is next in that category at 21 percent.

I guess there’s something to be said for Ben’s straight-forward, truth-to-power speaking style. He may not have a basket full of policy specifics, but it’s clear that people like, trust and believe him.

Winning in Iowa has not proven to be the yellow brick road to the Republican nomination, but it’s a good start. More than anything, Iowa has exposed over the years who will NOT be president. Right now, it certainly looks like that growing group includes Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum – two former winners in the Hawkeye State.

Another factor to consider is the unique way the caucuses are conducted in Iowa, where even second choices are taken into account. Ben figures to do well in this area as well.

Something dramatic would need to happen to dampen Carson’s likability factor in order for the bottom-tier candidates to improve drastically. As time goes on, that notion looks increasingly more unlikely.

Trump’s 100 days in the lead

The poll news may not be so good for The Donald in Iowa, but nationally, he’s still looking very strong.

Jonathan Easley of The Hill reports, “The billionaire candidate has led every major national Republican poll since late July, and a raft of new surveys released this week reveals that Trump’s support has held steady over those months, while his underlying fundamentals have improved.

“The race has tightened somewhat, as Ben Carson has enjoyed a similar upward trajectory and even overtaken Trump in one new poll of Iowa. However, the retired neurosurgeon is the only candidate within shouting distance of Trump nationally or in the early voting states and remains firmly in second place in most polls.”

In other words, there’s still a lot to smile about in the Trump camp.

Easley does touch on the results of the Quinnipiac poll in Iowa, but adds Trump looks good in the second state to vote. “In New Hampshire, every poll released this month except one has shown Trump with a double-digit lead, despite a spending frenzy by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and a near-singular focus on the state by Govs. Chris Christie (N.J.) and John Kasich (Ohio), both of whom believe their moderate profiles should endear them to the mainstream voters there.”

Once again, it’s not necessarily who wins as much as who loses in the early states. Winning early guarantees candidates national attention and money to keep their efforts going. Losing early means no momentum – and nothing good comes from lack of it.

Trump still has doubters, but most are conceding he’s in a pretty good position.

There are also signs the establishment is finally acknowledging Trump’s strength. Many are panicking and contemplating what, if anything, can be done to stop him.

But according to Rebecca Berg of Real Clear Politics, there is no organized effort to take down The Donald. “[A]s the calendar turned to fall, any assuredness that Trump would self-destruct has mostly evaporated among Republicans. Donors are growing nervous, as are the campaigns. But there is no consensus about what action should be taken in response.”

…“With Republican campaigns either failing to gain traction against Trump or not taking him on directly, it might seem reasonable to expect that outside forces in the party, particularly donors, would step up to fill the void. But, for the most part, that has not happened.”

Berg did say The Club for Growth spent $1 million on anti-Trump ads in Iowa last month… could this have something to do with Carson’s sizeable gain in the state?

At any rate, there isn’t any consensus on a take-down Trump strategy should a group of establishment donors get together and decide to cooperate. Adding to the elites’ challenge is the fact the field remains large and support is fractured – so there’s no chance to consolidate against a single anti-Trump establishment candidate.

Lastly, even if some of the candidates dropped out today, who’s to say their backers wouldn’t gravitate to Trump, Carson, Cruz or even Fiorina?

It’s appearing more and more likely that Trump and the “outsiders” are here to stay. All of them look certain to make it at least through Iowa and New Hampshire. And no Republican nominee has ever failed to win at least one of those states.

And I doubt history will be made this year, either.

Line-ups settled for next week’s CNBC Republican debate

Not that we didn’t know already, but the line-ups have been finalized for next Wednesday night’s CNBC Republican debate in Boulder, Colorado.

Hadas Gold of Politico reports, “At center stage … will be Donald Trump and Ben Carson, flanked by Marco Rubio, Carly Fiorina, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, John Kasich and Rand Paul.

“The undercard debate will feature Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, George Pataki and Lindsey Graham.”

Mercifully, the “Happy Hour” debate will only last an hour this time. For only four candidates that should be more than enough. Are you listening, Democrats?

CNBC bowed to Trump and Carson’s demands that the time on stage be limited to two hours including commercials. All of the candidates will also get a 30-second question to open with and a 30-second closing statement that some of them will no doubt stretch out to a minute or longer, probably with 10-15 seconds of complaining about not getting enough chances to talk in the main program.

Debate moderators are CNBC anchors John Harwood, Carl Quintanilla and Becky Quick.

Unlike the first two debates, this one is supposed to focus specially on economic issues. Donald Trump has consistently polled the highest in terms of voters’ trust in his ability to manage the economy – so we’ll see how he’s able to present his proposals in short segments.

Or he might just settle for calling his opponents “stupid.” That’s worked so far for him.

It’s also interesting to note The Donald won’t be standing right next to Jeb Bush this time, avoiding any potential direct confrontations within the parameters of personal space.

Rand Paul’s plan to stand out in the CNBC debate

Finally this week, all of the candidates are probably plotting their strategies on how to corral more attention during next week’s debate, but Rand Paul thinks it’s his chance to show he’s the only real fiscal conservative in the Republican field because he’s the lone voice against a big military build-up.

Gabby Morrongiello of the Washington Examiner reports on Paul’s plan. “[T]he Kentucky senator says his goal during the upcoming debate is to ensure ‘everybody in America knows you cannot be conservative if you are liberal with your ideas toward military spending.

‘The main thing I'd like to present in the next debate is that I'm the only fiscal conservative in the race because I'm fiscally conservative on military spending and fiscally conservative on domestic spending,’” Paul said.

Such an approach will certainly set him apart from most if not all of his fellow competitors. Republican voters like a strong military – but Paul’s arguing the military doesn’t have to be big and wasteful in order to be strong.

Time will tell if Rand is able to break through where his father failed. Ron Paul used to make the same case – and it wasn’t received well.

One way or another, Paul will stand alone on the matter.

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