Republican presidential hopeful Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., walks off the stage after speaking at an event organized on April 28, 2015, in Los Angeles.
Photo by Jae C. Hong/AP

Who’s leading the GOP presidential pack

Trading Places: Hillary’s numbers go down, Obama’s go up in new NBC/WSJ poll … Why Hillary is formidable: Comparing her with the sitting vice president, Joe Biden … Measuring Hillary’s presidential attributes now vs. Obama in 2011 … Hillary’s attributes are (mostly) stronger today among Democrats than they were in 2007 … Jeb, Rubio lead the GOP pack in NBC/WSJ poll … Huckabee to make his presidential bid official at 11:00 am ET in Arkansas … Rubio to give foreign-policy speech on May 13… And Hillary to speak on immigration today in Nevada.

FIRST THOUGHTS.

*** Trading Places: Hillary’s numbers go down, Obama’s go up: Here’s what happens when you leave your lofty (and apolitical) secretary of state job to run for president: Your polling numbers go down, as our NBC/WSJ poll shows for Hillary Clinton. Hillary’s fav/unfav is now 42%-42% – down from 44%-36% in March, 48%-32% in April 2014, and 56%-25% in Jan. 2013 when she was leaving Foggy Bottom. (Still, Clinton is the only 2016er the NBC/WSJ poll measured who doesn’t have a net-negative fav/unfav rating.) And here’s what happens when you’re no longer the opposition party’s punching bag: Your polling numbers go up, as the poll shows for President Obama. His fav/unfav has inched up to 47%-40% – from 44%-43% in March and 43%-45% right before the 2014 midterms. More significantly, Obama’s overall job-approval rating now sits at 48%, which is his highest number here since June 2013. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Obama is far removed from George W. Bush territory (his approval was 35% in the April 2007 NBC/WSJ poll). And that matters – as John McCain and the GOP ultimately discovered.

*** Why Hillary is formidable: Comparing her with the sitting vice president: Despite the hits Hillary Clinton has taken over the last month (just see our poll) and despite the Democratic handwringing, here’s the reality: She’s the best candidate Democrats have – and (at this point) she’s the most formidable candidate in either field. Just compare her with sitting Vice President Joe Biden. In a hypothetical matchup, Hillary leads Jeb Bush by six points (49%-43%), but Jeb bests Biden by eight (48%-40%). Where does Hillary outperform Biden against Bush? 

  • Hillary gets 90% of the African-American vote vs. 66% for Biden;
  • Hillary gets 41% from independents vs. 26% for Biden;
  • Hillary gets 49% from suburban women vs. 36% for Biden;
  • And Hillary gets 56% from women vs. 45% for Biden.

While it’s easy to caricature Joe Biden, do remember he has universal name ID, plenty of experience, and he’s the sitting vice president. And Hillary crushes him when both are matched up against the best-known Republican in the race. “Yes, there are challenges with the Clinton name,” says NBC/WSJ co-pollster Fred Yang (D). “But [Hillary] remains a uniquely formidable candidate.”

*** Measuring Hillary’s presidential attributes now vs. Obama in 2011: Hillary also brings different strengths and weaknesses to a presidential campaign than Barack Obama did at this point in the 2007 and 2011 races. Her top strength: In our newest poll, 51% of all voters give Hillary high marks for being knowledgeable and experienced to handle the presidency (compared with 44% who gave Obama good marks on this in 2011 – when he was in the THIRD year of being in the White House). Her weaknesses: She isn’t as likeable as Obama (her 41% to Obama’s 65%), and she isn’t seen as honest (her 25% to Obama’s 49%).

*** Hillary’s attributes are (mostly) stronger today among Democrats than they were in 2007: Remember, honesty and likeability are two issues that doomed her in 2008. But here’s something else our NBC/WSJ poll shows: With just one exception – on honesty – her attributes are HIGHER now among Democrats than they were in 2007:

  • Dem primary voters saying she’s knowledgeable/experienced: 86% now vs. 71% in June 2007
  • Dem primary voters saying she’s compassionate: 75% now vs. 69% in Nov. 2007
  • Dem primary voters saying she has high personal standards: 76% now vs. 61% in Nov. 2007
  • Dem primary voters saying she’s easygoing and likeable: 68% now vs. 49% in Nov. 2007
  • Dem primary voters saying she has a vision for the country: 75% now vs. 62% in June 2007
  • Dem primary voters saying she’s inspirational: 69% now vs. 50% in June 2007
  • Dem primary voters saying she’ll bring change: 67% now vs. 61% in June 2007
  • Dem primary voters saying she shares your position on issues: 69% now vs. 54% in June 2007
  • Dem primary voters saying she’s honest: 52% now vs. 53% in Nov. 2007.

*** Jeb, Rubio lead the GOP pack: As for the GOP field in our NBC/WSJ poll, “former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio lead the pack,” as one of us write. “Asked which Republican hopeful would be their first choice to win the party’s primary, 23 percent of GOP primary voters chose Bush. An additional 14 percent picked him as a second choice. Eighteen percent of GOP primary voters said that they favored Rubio most, while another 23 percent selected the Florida senator as their second choice for the Republican nod.” Walker was third with 14% as the top choice and 13% as the second choice.

*** Ranking the field: Can you support them or not? In another way to view the GOP race, here’s how the candidates rank on if GOP primary voters can see themselves supporting these folks or not.

  • Rubio: 74%-15% (+59)
  • Walker 61%-16% (+45)
  • Bush: 70%-27% (+43)
  • Cruz: 57%-28% (+29)
  • Paul: 59%-32% (+27)
  • Carson: 39%-22% (+17)
  • Huckabee: 52%-39% (+13)
  • Perry: 45%-34% (+11)
  • Fiorina: 17%-25% (-8)
  • Christie: 38%-50% (-12)

*** Huckabee to make his presidential bid official: From those numbers above, the candidates who announced their presidential bids before our poll went into the field (April 26-30) – like Rubio, Paul, and Cruz – got a bit of a liftoff, which shouldn’t be that surprising. And at 11:00 am ET in Hope, AR, another Republican presidential candidate makes an announcement: Mike Huckabee. As we’ve written before, Huckabee is underrated by many – he’s easily the best communicator on the GOP field, and he brings together social conservatism and economic populism. That makes him a player in Iowa (as he was in 2008). But unlike in 2008, the evangelical field in this contest is getting crowded (Cruz already got a head start, Santorum will run, and Walker appeals to this crowd, too). And already, NBC News confirms that the Club for Growth is spending $100,000 hitting Huckabee in Iowa and South Carolina.

*** Rubio to give foreign-policy speech on May 13: The Rubio campaign tells First Read that the Florida senator will deliver his first policy address as a presidential candidate on May 13 to the Council on Relations in NYC.

*** Hillary to speak on immigration in Nevada: Finally, as NBC’s Kristen Welker reports, Hillary Clinton today will address comprehensive immigration reform in the key nominating state of Nevada, emphasizing her support for “a full and equal path to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants. According to a preview of her campaign stop provided by a Clinton official, Hillary will say at a heavily Hispanic Las Vegas high school that proposals that stop short of full citizenship result in the creation of a  “second class” status.

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OBAMA AGENDA: Obama discusses Baltimore – on Letterman

In an interview with David Letterman, the president said: “It is important that now that charges have been brought in Baltimore that we let the process play itself out. Those officers have been charged and they deserve to be represented and to let the legal system work its way through. We don’t have all the facts yet and that’s going to be presented in a court of law.” 

The New York Times, with the big picture on race issues: “While his first term was consumed with the economy, war and health care, his second keeps coming back to the societal divide that was not bridged by his election. A president who eschewed focusing on race now seems to have found his voice again as he thinks about how to use his remaining time in office and beyond.”

Secretary of State John Kerry has made an unannounced stop in Somalia, the first time a sitting State Department head has done so.

ISIS has claimed responsibility for the recent attack in Garland, Texas, but the organization didn’t provide evidence to support the claim. 

The president is picking Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr. to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, AP reports. 

OFF TO THE RACES: Jeb and Rubio lead the GOP field

From one of us(!): Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush win the top spots in the GOP field, according to our latest NBC/WSJ poll.

BUSH: National Journal reports on his aggressive push in New Hampshire, writing that the state “has emerged as an almost must-win state for Bush in 2016.” 

CLINTON: From one of us(!): She remains “formidable” despite having taken a hit with voters, with her unfavorable rating ticking up.

She’s going to push for a “full and equal path to citizenship,” according to a campaign preview of her remarks today in Nevada.

Her lawyer says she will testify before the Benghazi committee – but just once.

Bloomberg Politics looks at Robby Mook’s Nevada roots. 

FIORINA: And Bloomberg takes a look back at Fiorina’s father, a federal judge and law professor with conservative ties.

HUCKABEE: The Washington Post delves into Mike Huckabee’s complicated relationship with the Clintons.

Old Huckabee nemesis Club for Growth isn’t holding back, planning a $100,000 ad buy hitting his record, the New York Times reports.

Reuters previews some of Huckabee’s strengths and his challenges this cycle.

In her first piece for NPR, Jessica Taylor writes about Huckabee’s efforts to downplay his recent celebrity.

RUBIO: Per his campaign, he’ll deliver his first foreign policy address as a presidential candidate at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York next Wednesday, May 13.

WALKER: The New York Times looks at his relationship with fellow Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan.

And around the country…

The New York Times lays out the accusations against New York Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.

NBC News’ Carrie Dann contributed reporting. 

Hillary Clinton

Who's leading the GOP presidential pack