With more than two and a half years until the next presidential election, pollsters are already busy gauging the sentiments of likely Republican voters. According to a recent survey, two men lead the pack.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul both received a nod from 13 percent of respondents in the nationwide poll conducted by WPA Opinion Research.

Though these two potential candidates emerged as early favorites, a field of several other Republican leaders appears to be closing in on their lead. Another former governor, Florida’s Jeb Bush, received the support of 11 percent, while New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz battled it out with 9 percent each.

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WPA CEO Chris Wilson said the 2016 GOP primary is shaping up for a close race due to the number of likely contenders who are able to speak to frustrated Americans in unique but effective ways.

“With a field of quality candidates,” he said, “it is no surprise that no one has broken away from the pack. The important thing at this point of the race is staying in the conversation, and the fact that Rand Paul, Huckabee, Bush, Christie and Cruz are all managing to do that bodes well for them in the long term.”

Though these five Republicans were ranked the most desirable, results varied when respondents were asked to pick a candidate capable of defeating likely Democrat rival Hillary Clinton. The poll found that Paul, Christie, and Bush were best suited for that task.

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Wilson concluded that though Christie is “clearly not the first choice among GOP voters overall,” this result indicates “that the theory a moderate Republican can beat a liberal Democrat still holds some sway.”

In order for Christie to gain traction, Wilson concluded that “his best move may be to move the conversation away from ideology to the idea that he is best positioned to beat Hillary.”

He spoke for many conservatives when he lamented the fact that “some Republicans haven’t learned the lessons of nominating moderate candidates like Bob Dole, John McCain or Mitt Romney.”

While principled Republicans remain popular among many within the party, it is now their job to convince voters they can take on Hillary and win.

–B. Christopher Agee

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Photo credit: Gage Skidmore (Creative Commons)