Although no Republican presidential candidate has won Pennsylvania since 1988, a new poll suggests that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie may be the one Republican capable of making it competitive in 2016.
According to a new Quinnipiac poll, if the 2016 presidential election were held today between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Christie, Clinton would lead 44% to 43%, well within the poll’s margin of error.
Christie’s statistical tie distinguishes himself from the rest of Republican field: no other Republican comes within 12 points of Clinton. Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum trails by 13 points, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul trails by 12 points, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz trails by 18 points, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush trails by 16 points.
Much of Christie’s comparative advantage comes from his strength among self-described political ‘moderates’. While Christie trails Clinton 48% - 40% among this very important voting bloc, Santorum trails 62% - 24%, Paul trails 63% - 27%, Cruz trails 66% - 21%, and Bush trails 62% - 27%.
Pennsylvania voters say 57% - 39% that Clinton would make a good President. Christie would also make a good President, they say 55% - 29%. However, all other major Republican contenders are underwater with Pennsylvania voters—all would not make good Presidents, by margins of 14 - 21 points.
While a Public Policy Polling poll from November showed Christie with a 4-point lead over Clinton, Christie’s 1-point deficit here is smaller than his 5-point deficit in Quinnipiac’s previous 2016 Pennsylvania poll in March.
Christie’s dominance over the rest of the Republican field likely stems from his broad-based popularity across the political spectrum and his presence in next-door New Jersey. While Paul and Cruz may appeal to the Tea-Party base, Christie appeals to moderates and independents that have observed his ability to work with the Democrat-controlled state Senate.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama remains deeply unpopular among Pennsylvania voters. Only 39% approve of how he is handling his job as President, while 57% disapprove. This includes approval of just 35% of Independents and 36% of men. Obama’s 18-point approval deficit marks a huge drop from June, when his approval in Pennsylvania was even. His tank in approval is likely due to the disastrous rollout of the Affordable Care Act.
If Christie can turn Pennsylvania into a true battleground state in 2016, this could spell trouble for Clinton: no Democrat has won the White House without capturing the Keystone state since 1948.