By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is the Republican best placed to compete against potential Democratic presidential candidates, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Friday that also underscored Democrat Hillary Clinton's strength should she run.
As Republicans gather in the Washington area this weekend to ponder their future after losing the 2012 presidential race, the poll showed how far the party has to go to regain its footing and be competitive at the national level again.
The online survey found that Christie is preferred narrowly when matched up against Vice President Joe Biden, 34 percent to 33 percent, and Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, 36 percent to 32 percent.
Against Clinton, however, Christie fares far worse. The former secretary of state leads by 48 percent to 28 percent.
The brash, portly New Jersey governor has not said whether he will run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
A moderate who was criticized by some Republicans for praising President Barack Obama's response to Superstorm Sandy last year, Christie was not invited to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference this week.
"Christie is really the only one in the head-to-heads who gains any ground against the Democratic candidates - not against Clinton, who seems to be the favorite, although we are so far out that these numbers are very soft," said Ipsos pollster Julia Clark.
Among possible Republican candidates, the leader of the 2016 pack is Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House of Representatives Budget Committee and 2012 vice presidential running mate for Mitt Romney.
Ryan has been in the news lately for proposing a budget blueprint that would make deep cuts in government spending as a way to balance the U.S. budget in 10 years. The Obama White House has denounced the Ryan budget as draconian.
When Republican and independent voters were asked about which Republican they would vote for in 2016, Ryan took a 22 percent share. Sixteen percent said Christie and 14 percent backed former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is not believed to be running in 2016 at this stage.
Rounding out the field were Florida Senator Marco Rubio at 9 percent, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush at 6 percent and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal at 3 percent.
CLINTON VERY STRONG
The poll showed just how strong Clinton's name recognition is less than two months after the former first lady ended her four years as secretary of state.
Clinton leads the Democratic field at 51 percent, far outpacing Biden, who was at 12 percent. She leads all potential Republican challengers by wide margins.
Cuomo, who is said to be considering a run, is way back at 4 percent, as is Newark, New Jersey, Mayor Cory Booker (4 percent), Virginia Senator Mark Warner (2 percent), Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley (1 percent) and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick (1 percent).
Clinton has said she wants some time off to rest after her grueling global travel schedule and consider her next move. Medical issues, including a blood clot in her head, complicated the final weeks of her time at the State Department.
A surprisingly strong showing in the poll came from Rice, who was secretary of state for Republican President George W. Bush. She was a well-received speaker at last year's Republican National Convention.
The poll found that she was viewed favorably by 71 percent of Americans, including 80 percent of Republicans, 67 percent of Democrats and 61 percent of independents.
The survey said 29 percent have an unfavorable view of Rice, who last year was accepted as one of the first women to join the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia where the Masters tournament is played.
For the survey, 1,224 Americans aged 18 and over were interviewed online, including 511 Democrats, 447 Republicans and 162 independents.
The precision of the Reuters/Ipsos poll is measured by a credibility interval. In this case, the poll has a credibility interval of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points for all, 4.9 percentage points for Democrats, 5.3 percentage points for Republicans, and 8.8 percentage points for independents.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Alistair Bell; Editing by Eric Beech)