We are less than 100 days from the Iowa Caucuses. The closer we get, the more and more I think we are on the verge of a Ted Cruz vs. Marco Rubio Republican Primary.
To be sure, Donald Trump and Ben Carson are in the lead. Trump's support has been declining in the past few weeks. More and more surveys have Trump falling behind Carson. The data on Carson shows a few things. His supporters are typically people of faith. They favor an outsider, but resist Trump's brashness, and his support is soft support, meaning that his voters are not permanently locked into supporting him.
Trump's supporters are more fixed. They love Trump. They will stand with Trump. But his core supporters who are locked into him are apparently less than half of his support. Much of Trump's support too is soft and has drifted to Carson, away from Trump's braggadocios style. The common trait among Trump and Carson's supporters is that they want an outsider who will challenge Washington.
The most telling data in the polling is that most polls ask for second choices. Those second choices have been, for Carson, to go to Trump, and for Trump to go to Carson. That has changed. More and more, Cruz and Rubio are the second choices. Carly Fiorina has faded away. Jeb Bush is collapsing and his donor support is looking at Rubio. Christie is making a resurgent play in New Hampshire. Kasich is hanging on. But the establishment eyes are drifting toward Rubio while the outsiders are looking at Cruz.
In all the polling now, Rubio and Cruz are statistically tied for third place. While Carson has a loyal, but soft following, his overwhelming income in the third quarter is offset by his high burn rate. Carson, Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton have the three highest burn rates — the amount of money they are spending of what they take in. Clinton's is over 85 percent. Carson's is about 68 percent. For comparison, Bernie Sanders, who also had a major boost in contributions over the past three months, is only spending 4 percent of his money.
Cruz and Rubio have thus far been the best fiscal stewards of their cash and they also have very large Super PAC's standing on the sidelines reserving ad buys in early states. I suspect as the pace quickens, Trump and Carson will falter. We have already seen that negative ads in Iowa have affected Trump. Those ads are going to expand. We have also seen that Carson makes frequent mistakes on the campaign trail — to be expected of a new guy in politics, but the media is going to amplify those mistakes.
With Cruz and Rubio being the second choice now for much of Carson and Trump's supporters, as Carson and Trump try to stand against the media and Super PAC barrage, a number of their supporters will drift to Cruz and Rubio, driving up their poll numbers.
The media will not point it out, but it is interesting to note that three of the four top Republican candidates are not white, while the entirety of the Democratic field is white. Likewise, both Cruz and Rubio are under 50, painting a stunning contrast to the senior citizens running as the second coming of George McGovern on the Democratic side.
The campaign season is still young. But right now, I think by March we will see Rubio v. Cruz and, with the outsider vibe this year, Cruz has the advantage in that fight.
Erick Erickson is a Fox News contributor and radio talk show host in Atlanta.