Donald Trump is still leading in Florida -- but Jeb Bush is nipping at his heels

Real-estate mogul Donald Trump is leading a crowded Republican field in the key Republican primary state of Florida, with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) maintaining a strong second place.

Trump comes out on top with about 24% of the vote in the Sunshine State, compared with about 17% for Bush, according to a new poll from Jacksonville University. Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina is in third place with about 15.5% of the vote, followed by retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson (about 15%) and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida (about 15%).

Florida’s “winner-take-all” primary next March will be crucial toward capturing the Republican nomination — especially for Bush and Rubio, who both hail from the state.

The pollsters said the survey results indicated a “major shakeup” in the race for Florida’s 99 delegates, as the political “outsiders” of Trump, Carson, and Fiorina have surged.

“The conventional wisdom was that former Gov. Bush or Sen. Rubio were a lock to win the Florida primary,” said Rick Mullaney, director of the JU Public Policy Institute. “This poll, however, shows a much more competitive race in Florida with five candidate polling in double figures.”

But though Trump leads, the familiar warning signs appear in the poll. He has the highest unfavorability score of any Republican candidate, at just more than 40%, while about half of Republicans view him favourably. The other top-four candidates are viewed favourably by more than 40-point margins.

And 30% of the poll’s respondents said they would “definitely not” support Trump, the highest of any candidate.

“While Trump remains in the lead, his high unfavorable rating and the 30 per cent of respondents in the poll who said they would not vote for him suggests there is a ceiling of support for him in Florida,” said JU Political Science Assistant Professor Paulina S. Rippere. “As candidates drop out and the field narrows, the poll results indicate that these votes will go to other candidates, and not to Trump.”

The Jacksonville University poll’s results differ from one from Florida Atlantic University released Wednesday, which found Rubio in second place. The pollsters attributed the difference to a larger sample size — 585 compared to 350 — according to the Times-Union of Jacksonville.

Jacksonville University’s poll surveyed a random sample of 585 registered Florida Republican likely voters, with a margin of error of plus-or-minus 4.1%.

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