The latest poll of Granite State voters sent shockwaves across American politics when it found Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis leading former President Donald Trump in a theoretical head-to-head GOP primary match-up in “First in the Nation” New Hampshire.
The same UNH Survey Center poll also found DeSantis far outperforming the former president in a potential race against President Joe Biden in New Hampshire. Trump is still losing by seven points (as he did in 2020), while DeSantis has a one-point lead.
“Trump slipping in pre-primary polls is part of a typical pattern,” said UNH Survey Center’s Andrew Smith. “A party’s losing candidate in the prior election is typically the best-known person in the party. As the primary gets closer, new candidates emerge and attract more media attention, and therefore more voter attention, than the losing candidate from the previous election.”
So, does that mean Trump is in trouble in New Hampshire? Probably not. But it is a massive shift in the UNH numbers versus a year ago. Since last July, Trump’s number has fallen by 10 points while DeSantis has added 20 points.
UNH Political Science professor Dante Scala notes that it’s “wicked early” for #FITN talk, but he says there’s still a message in Trump’s poll performance.
“This poll supports the theory that the best candidate to beat Trump is someone who is viewed as a successor — someone who extends Trumpism,’ not someone who rejects it or wants to take the GOP back to the Bush-Romney days,” Scala said.
“Maybe it takes a Florida Man to beat a Florida Man!”
NBC News numbers cruncher Steve Kornacki catches another notable number. “One more interesting nugget from the UNH poll — they broke down the ’24 GOP vote by media consumption:”
Fox News viewers:
Conservative radio listeners:
DeSantis has been a staple on Fox News, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic and more recently debating legislation to prevent teachers from presenting controversial sexual content to students younger than the fourth grade. Watching DeSantis govern is apparently having an effect, says veteran GOP strategist Michael Dennehy.
“Republicans in New Hampshire, and across the country, are watching Gov. DeSantis fight Biden’s socialist agenda every day – and win. Republicans want a fighter and a winner to change direction in America. Right now, that’s what DeSantis represents. But it’s all just a snapshot in time. Trump is still remarkably popular and should never be counted out if he runs again,” Dennehy said.
Then there is the aspect that’s roiling the Democratic Party and could impact the GOP in 2024, too.
While Trump hasn’t evinced any of the age-related unsteadiness Biden has, the fact remains he just turned 76 years old, while DeSantis is a youthful 43. Even Democrats have admitted publicly DeSantis’s youth would make the 2024 campaign a very different race.
“It’s a tale as old as time,” a GOP strategist with long ties to NH and presidential politics told NHJournal. “You are ‘it’ until one day – you’re not. Frank Sinatra meets Elvis. Guns N Roses and Nirvana. Hillary vs. Obama.
“How could DeSantis beat Trump? At this point the question isn’t ‘how,’ it’s ‘why not?'”
Trump’s endorsement record in the 2022 GOP primary also appears to show he is losing a political step. In Alabama on Tuesday, his endorsed candidate Katie Britt defeated Congressman Mo Brooks in the GOP Senate runoff. Trump had endorsed Brooks earlier in the race, then withdrew it because he was losing. By the time Trump endorsed Britt, she was the surging frontrunner.
Next door in Georgia, Trump’s picks were pummelled across the state in massive losses.
And in Pennsylvania, Trump’s hand-picked candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz barely won the GOP primary and is now looking like a probable loser in November. So is Trump’s pick for governor, state Sen. Doug Mastriano.
Which is why, says veteran GOP strategist Tom Rath, “These numbers say more about Trump than they do about DeSantis.”
According to Rath, “DeSantis’ numbers show that, as of now 2024 is not a slam dunk for Trump and that there is at least some appetite for alternatives. These numbers also demonstrate again how well [Gov. Chris] Sununu reads his state. He has put a degree of distance between himself and Trump and, based on this data, there does not appear to be a price he will to pay for that space.”
For Rath, the most surprising fniding from the poll is how badly Trump is still losing to Biden.
“That 7 point spread is about what Biden won by in 2020. For him to still have that lead after the tough news of the past 12 months– once again, that says more about Trump than it does his opponents.”
Jim Merrill, who worked on both Mitt Romney presidential campaigns, is also impressed. “While no one wants the front runner label two years before an election, these numbers are remarkably strong and impressive for Gov. DeSantis. More importantly, for all of the prospective GOP candidates not named Trump, they are a clear signal that our 2024 FITN New Hampshire primary will be a wide-open race very much worth competing in. Buckle up!”