The Iowa caucuses are just three weeks from today, and the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll, released over the weekend, offers little hope to the Republican establishment, waiting for its presidential nominating race to change. Here are the latest preferences from Hawkeye State Republicans:
1. Ted Cruz: 28%
2. Donald Trump: 24%
3. Marco Rubio: 13%
4. Ben Carson: 11%
The remaining candidates are each at 5% or lower. The results are very similar to the findings from the latest Fox News poll, released late Friday, which found Cruz leading Trump in Iowa, 27% to 23%, followed by Rubio at 15%.
To be sure, conditions can change over the course of three weeks -- the GOP candidates will participate in two more debates between now and Feb. 1 -- but the polling in Iowa has been fairly steady since early December, and Republican insiders eager to see Cruz and/or Trump falter have reason to feel anxious. Indeed, both major polls show the top two with at least 50% of the vote.
The picture in New Hampshire is noticably different:
1. Donald Trump: 30%
2. Marco Rubio: 14%
3. Chris Christie: 12%
4. Ted Cruz: 10%
5. Jeb Bush: 9%
5. John Kasich: 9%
As with Iowa, the remaining candidates are each at 5% or lower.
There is, however, an important difference between the NBC poll in the Granite State and the Fox News poll conducted over a similar period. The top of the heap looks roughly the same -- Trump leads with 33%, followed by Rubio at 15% -- but Fox shows Christie way back in sixth place with just 5% support, while NBC has the New Jersey governor in third, just a couple of points out of second.
Which is right? There's ample reason to believe the Fox poll is undercounting Christie's backing: if the governor were really struggling that badly, Rubio wouldn't be quite so eager to attack him.
What's more, note that the problem for the Republican establishment has been static for quite a while: Trump's lead in New Hampshire has held steady, while five GOP competitors battle it out for second place, splitting the mainstream Republican vote, making it impossible, at least for now, for any one of them to catch up to the frontrunner.
Another lingering question to keep in mind: Cruz has been treading water in New Hampshire, usually polling in third or fourth place, with support in the low double-digits, but will the Texan get a boost if he wins in Iowa? If recent polling holds up, it wouldn't take much to bump Cruz up to a second-place showing in the Granite State, which would likely have a major impact on the overall race.
As for the national picture, Fox News' poll found the Republican field shaping up this way:
1. Donald Trump: 35%
2. Ted Cruz: 20%
3. Marco Rubio: 13%
4. Ben Carson: 10%
Once again, each of the other GOP candidates were at 5% or lower.