Tuesday's elections showed that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 and that "the rift in the GOP is serious," veteran pollster John Zogby told Newsmax Friday.
"I'm ready to call Chris Christie the front-runner," Zogby told Newsmax in an exclusive interview. "He's the front-runner, in terms of the nomination."
The Republican governor "shares top-tier status" with such oft-mentioned possible candidates as Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, he said.
Christie was re-elected to a second four-year term as New Jersey's chief executive with 60 percent of the vote over Democratic state Sen. Barbara Buono's 39 percent. He is the first Republican in a quarter-century to receive more than 50 percent of the Democrat-leaning state's popular vote.
Last year, President Barack Obama carried New Jersey by more than 17 points, his biggest margin in the nation.
"Winning in a blue state, twice, he has that in his favor. New Hampshire is a whole lot more like New Jersey than it is like South Carolina," Zogby said, referring to the first two states to be holding primary elections. "He has that in his favor."
And historically, Republicans generally have nominated moderate candidates for the White House since President Richard Nixon in 1968 and 1972, Zogby said.
He referred to former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush — as well as candidates Sens. Bob Dole of Kansas in 1996, John McCain of Arizona in 2008, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in 2012.
The only exception was former President Ronald Reagan, a conservative who won the nomination in 1980 and 1984 "because a number of moderate candidates split the vote," Zogby said.
But whoever gets the GOP nomination will face a deeply splintered Republican Party, he said.
"You have the tea party," Zogby began. "It is not a compromising faction. You have libertarians, who hurt the GOP when they don't cooperate, but are also an entirely new element within the GOP.
"You have the establishment Republicans, the fiscal conservatives who want the old, big-tent Republican Party."
Then there are the social conservatives, who comprise about 15 percent of the GOP, he said.
"They're not terribly compromising on social issues," Zogby said. "They alienate younger voters, particularly young women."
"At this point, you look at those factions, and you see that it's hard to see them creating a consensus around a candidate," Zogby told Newsmax. "It's also hard to see how the party can appeal to the centrists and moderate voters when the GOP can't even agree on which right is right."
Still, even if Christie got the nomination, he could face a very strong Democratic challenger in former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who also is mentioned most as the likely presidential nominee.
"Voters just voted for him for governor," Zogby said of Christie. "They're not going to vote for him for president on the same ballot."
"Despite their liking him as governor of New Jersey, it is still a blue state — and she's still Hillary," Zogby added. "She's got 99 percent name recognition."
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