Axios reports a new poll of Iowa and New Hampshire voters from a top-tier GOP polling firm finds Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former president Donald Trump running close in the first two states of the 2024 primary season.

In Iowa, a state Trump lost to Sen. Ted Cruz in 2016, Trump is trailing DeSantis (45 to 37 percent) in a theoretical head-to-head match-up, while in New Hampshire, the two are tied at 39 percent.

According to Axios’ Josh Kraushaar, who broke the story, “The poll was conducted by Public Opinion Strategies from March 21 to 23 for an outside client (not a candidate or super PAC).”

National polls give Trump a big lead, one that has been growing steadily for weeks. However, GOP insiders note party nominees aren’t picked in a national referendum but in a series of state-by-state contests, where candidates can build momentum or lose support based on their performance.

“The people I hear from are open to all of these candidates. Anyone who thinks Trump, DeSantis, or anyone else has got New Hampshire in the bag doesn’t know New Hampshire,” one NHGOP insider who speaks to activists regularly told NHJournal.

At the same time, it’s all but certain Trump and DeSantis won’t be in a one-on-one race in New Hampshire. And according to Axios, the new poll shows that when the wider field is sampled, including former S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, DeSantis ties Trump in Iowa and trails him by 12 points in New Hampshire.

A NHJournal/coefficient poll taken on the eve of Trump’s visit to New Hampshire in late January found NHGOP primary voters split on Trump being the nominee. Asked to pick between Trump and “someone else,” 43 percent of primary voters picked the former president, and 42 percent wanted an alternative. But when given a list of choices, 37 percent supported Trump, 26 percent backed DeSantis, and 13 percent said New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu. No other candidates broke the 5 percent barrier.

That poll was taken before Haley and Ramaswamy entered the race.

A more recent poll by Emerson College gave Trump a big lead among Granite State Republicans with 58 percent support. DeSantis was at just 17 percent, Sununu at 7 percent, and Haley at 6 percent.

Perhaps most notable in the new Iowa and New Hampshire polling is GOP primary voters’ perception of the top two candidates. While many GOP political pros believe DeSantis is the better candidate in the general election and Trump is flawed — perhaps fatally — primary voters don’t agree.

Just 48 percent of New Hampshire GOP primary voters said DeSantis is the “best candidate to defeat Joe Biden,” compared to 46 percent for Trump. It’s a reminder, some GOP pros say, that the “candidate who can win” message rarely works in primaries. Particularly Republican primaries.

And while some pundits have suggested the poor performance of MAGA candidates like Don Bolduc and Bob Burns in the November election hurt Trump’s standing, the 2024 national polls aggregated by RealClearPolitics going back to November show him leading in all but one — most by double digits.

The new poll comes as the DeSantis campaign has beefed up its staff, including the addition of Trump’s 2020 campaign communications director Erin Perrine and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s chief strategist Jeff Roe. Another former Trump staffer, Ken Cuccinelli, who headed the Department of Homeland Security, is now leading the pro-DeSantis Don’t Back Down PAC.

Erin Perrine, who was the press communications director for former Trump’s 2020 campaign, has joined a super PAC supporting DeSantis — another sign that the infrastructure for his yet unannounced 2024 presidential campaign is expanding.

The few polls taken in Iowa and New Hampshire show Trump’s numbers are lower than the national average, perhaps giving challengers an opportunity to change the dynamics of the race in the early states.

Then again, Joe Biden lost Iowa and New Hampshire badly before going on to handily win the Democratic nomination in 2020.

Trump has become more aggressive in targeting DeSantis in recent weeks, a sign he sees the DeSantis threat as serious. Fox News’ Paul Steinhauser quotes a source close to Trump warning, “We’re not Charlie Crist, and this is not going to be like patty-cake.” (DeSantis defeated Crist 57-42 percent in last year’s governor’s race.)

“We wake up every morning thinking of how we can punch Ron DeSantis in the face,” the source said.