Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign stop, Feb. 15, 2016, in Greenville, S.C.
Photo by Paul Sancya/AP

Latest polls capture Republican fight at key moment

Voting in South Carolina’s Republican presidential primary begins in just two days. Following up on our coverage from Tuesday and Wednesday, two new polls offer new data that helps tell us what to expect from this key nominating contest.
First up is the latest Monmouth University poll, which has the primary shaping up this way:
1. Donald Trump: 35%
2. Ted Cruz: 19%
3. Marco Rubio: 17%
4. John Kasich: 9%
5. Jeb Bush: 8%
6. Ben Carson: 7%
These results came just a few hours before the release of the latest Bloomberg Politics poll.
1. Donald Trump: 36%
2. Ted Cruz: 17%
3. Marco Rubio: 15%
4. Jeb Bush: 13%
5. Ben Carson: 9%
6. John Kasich: 7%
Note, the Monmouth University poll was conducted entirely after Saturday night’s debate, while most of the Bloomberg poll was in the field after the event. Both surveys, of course, were in the field before South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) endorsed Rubio, which is likely to give him at least some additional support.
Indeed, reviewing all of the recent data, it looks like Cruz and Rubio are in a tight race for second, but with the Republican establishment going all out in support of the Florida senator, it’s easy to imagine a top-two finish for Rubio – which would fall short of the “3-2-1” strategy the senator’s campaign had in mind up until quite recently.
As for national polling, three new surveys have come out over the last 24 hours:
* A USA Today/Suffolk poll shows Trump leading the field with 35%, followed by Cruz at 20% and Rubio at 17%.
* A CBS News poll has Trump out in front with 35%, followed by Cruz at 18% and Rubio at 12%.
* But an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll is the oddball, showing Cruz leading Trump, 28% to 26%, with Rubio third at 17%.
Average all of the recent data together and it looks like Trump’s margin is large enough to lead Cruz and Rubio combined – at least in national polling.
While that matters, it remains a state-by-state nominating fight, and so in the short term, Republicans will focus their attention to the South Carolina primary on Saturday, and the Nevada caucuses which will follow on Tuesday, Feb. 23.