Donald Trump could do to the 2016 general election exactly what Ross Perot did a generation ago – with a Clinton pulling away from a Bush and a wealthy business mogul drawing a surprisingly large share of the vote.
A new McClatchy-Marist poll finds Clinton leading every potential Republican rival one on one. And while her lead has narrowed over several, it expands greatly in a race against Jeb Bush if Trump decides to jump in as a third-party candidate, as he has suggested is possible.
The poll projects a virtual rerun of 1992. That year, husband Bill Clinton won the White House with 43 percent of the popular vote. President George H.W. Bush, Jeb Bush’s father, came in second with 37.5 percent. Perot, running as an independent, got 19 percent.
This time, Hillary Clinton gets 44 percent, Bush gets 29 percent and Trump gets 20 percent, according to the poll.
The results come as the Republicans prepare for their first debate, Thursday in Cleveland, with Trump leading national polls of GOP voters. Should he fall short of winning the Republican nomination, which party insiders expect, Trump has opened the door to a third-party bid.
Trump would badly wound Bush, according to the nationwide McClatchy-Marist survey conducted July 22-28.
He would siphon votes from Republicans and independents, but not from Democrats. He’d get 28 percent of the Republican vote, while Bush would sink to 63 percent support from his own party. Meanwhile, Clinton would hold 86 percent of the Democrats.
In California, which last gave its electoral votes to a Republican in 1988, Deborah Alexander, a retired resident of Citrus Heights, said she would vote for Clinton because “it’s time.”
She laughed when asked about Trump. Asked to explain her feelings about the businessman, Alexander said she doesn’t “talk like that” in public.
Jeff Fagan, a data entry worker from Davis, said he’s waiting to see how the candidates fare. He has seen enough, though, to call Trump a “mismatch” for the presidency.
“Being a businessman and running a country are too entirely different things,” Fagan said, adding that Trump is “kind of an oddball, but he’s saying what people want to hear.”
Without Trump in the general election race, Bush would get more than nine of 10 Republicans and would trail Clinton by 6 percentage points.
A Trump general election candidacy would be a huge boost for Clinton, whose support has ebbed somewhat in recent months as she’s had to defend her email use while secretary of state and has been criticized for a tightly scripted campaign style.
“This suggests it’s going to be a very competitive election,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion in New York, which conducts the poll.
Here’s how Clinton fares one on one:
▪ Leads Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky by 5 percentage points, 48 percent to 43 percent.
▪ Leads Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida by 5, 47 to 42.
▪ Leads Bush by 6, 49 to 43.
▪ Leads Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin by 7, 48 to 41.
▪ Leads former Texas Gov. Rick Perry by 7, 47 to 40.
▪ Leads Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas by 9, 49 to 40.
▪ Leads former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee by 9, 50 to 41.
▪ Leads retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson by 10, 49 to 39.
▪ Leads Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey by 10, 50 to 40.
▪ Leads Gov. John Kasich of Ohio by 10, 49 to 39.
▪ Leads former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania by 12, 51 to 39.
▪ Leads Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana by 16, 52 to 36.
▪ Leads Trump by 16, 54 to 38.
▪ Leads Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina by 17, 52 to 35.
▪ Leads former executive Carly Fiorina by 18, 53 to 35.
▪ Leads former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore by 21, 53 to 32.
Clinton has inched below 50 percent when matched up against leading Republican contenders. Combined with the smaller margins, the drops are significant because Clinton is already well known, while most of her challengers are not.
The poll sampled 1,249 adults, with a 2.8 percent margin of error.