A poll released by New England College finds Republican voters in New Hampshire are divided in who they want to see challenge for the White House. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, the junior senator from Florida, leads with 17 percent followed by another favorite son of the Sunshine State, former Gov. Jeb Bush who takes second with 16 percent.
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky is also running strong in New Hampshire with 15 percent while Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., are tied in fourth with 12 percent apiece.
The rest of the field is in the single digits. Former Gov. Jon Huntsman of Utah, who placed third in New Hampshire in 2012, takes 6 percent while another candidate from that election cycle -- former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania -- takes 4 percent. Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana lags behind with 2 percent.
But with 17 percent of New Hampshire Republicans undecided, New Hampshire is anyones game insists Ben Tafoya, the director of the New England College Polling Center.
The Republican field is filled with possibility and voters are clearly open-minded about a top pick, said Tafoya . Although Senator Rubio was the top vote getter with 17 percent, just as many voters say they are unsure, at 17 percent. Republican voters are keeping their options open. This is a wide-open field.
While Republicans in New Hampshire are torn about who they want to see with their partys nomination, Democrats in the Granite State have no doubt who they are backing -- former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The former first lady is way ahead of the Democratic pack in New Hampshire, taking 65 percent in the poll. Vice President Joe Biden stands in a very distant second place with 10 percent.
Three possible Democratic candidates from the Northeast stand in the low single digits in the poll. Freshman U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, from neighboring Massachusetts, takes 5 percent in the poll. Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York takes 4 percent followed by Gov. Deval Patrick from Massachusetts who garners 3 percent. Gov. Martin OMalley from Maryland takes less than 1 percent while 13 percent are undecided.
Our polling is consistent with other surveys that show former Secretary of State Clinton is far and away the preference for Democratic voters in New Hampshire at this early stage, said Tafoya. If she does not run in 2016, the Democratic contest in the first-in-the-nation primary will be wide open.
Dr. Wayne Lesperance, the director of the Center of Civic Engagement at New England College, cautions that independent voters can have a major impact in New Hampshire since the state holds an open primary. Independent voters helped propel Huntsman last time out as the former Utah governor only won the backing of 10 percent of New Hampshire Republicans but still came in third with 17 percent of the vote.
An open presidential primary is a very different political animal, said Lesperance. Independent voters are the eternal wild card in this process. They can pick either a Republican or Democratic Party ballot on primary day in New Hampshire, which makes things unpredictable. Independents will watch both races to see where their vote will have the biggest impact.
The poll of 340 New Hampshire Republican voters had a margin of error of +/- 5.3 percent. The poll of 314 New Hampshire Democratic voters had a margin of error of +/- 5.5 percent.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this story exclusively for Sunshine State News.