- Jeb Bush leads the GOP field by 10 points, with 23% support
- It's the first time any candidate has taken a statistically-significant lead over the GOP field
- He's also the strongest GOP candidate in a match-up against Hillary Clinton
Jeb Bush is the clear Republican presidential frontrunner, surging to the front of the potential GOP pack following his announcement that he's "actively exploring" a bid, a new CNN/ORC poll found.
He takes nearly one-quarter — 23% — of Republicans surveyed in the new nationwide poll, putting him 10 points ahead of his closest competitor, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who tallied 13%.
Physician Ben Carson comes in third, with 7% support, and Sen. Rand Paul and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee are both tied for fourth with 6%.
That marks a drop in support for all but Christie and Bush from the last CNN/ORC survey of the field, conducted in November. That poll showed Bush in the lead, but only taking 14% of the vote, while Carson came in second with 11% and Christie tied Rep. Paul Ryan for fourth with 9% support.
Bush's 10-point lead is a milestone for the potential GOP field — it marks the first time any prospective candidate has reached a lead beyond a poll's margin of error in the past two years.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is still far and away the favorite to take the Democratic nomination for president if she runs, with the support of two-thirds of Democrats polled. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a liberal favorite, comes in a distant second place with just 9%.
Bush would still face some skepticism from GOP primary voters if he ran, but the CNN/ORC poll shows they are largely willing to forgive him for some of his more controversial comments and positions.
GOP primary voters are about evenly split on whether his support for allowing some illegal immigrants to stay in the United States makes them more or less likely to support him, or has no difference on their opinion of him.
Forty-two percent say his description of illegal immigration as an "act of love" make them less likely to support Bush, but another 39% say it makes no difference to them.
And while 40% say the fact that state government spending increased under Bush's watch as Florida governor, another 49% say that doesn't matter to them.
Even on Common Core educational standards, which many conservatives vehemently oppose, GOP primary voters are about evenly split on whether his support for those standards would make them less likely to support him.
Regardless, however, Bush may ultimately have little trouble overcoming his sins with the conservative base, as the CNN/ORC poll found Republican primary voters taking a pragmatic stance on the party's nominee.
Sixty-nine percent say they want a nominee that can beat the Democratic candidate for president, even if that person doesn't agree with them on every issue, while only 29 percent of GOP primary voters are purists.
And that makes Bush the candidate to beat in a GOP primary.
Out of all of the seven head-to-head GOP match-ups with Clinton tested, Bush fares the best, trailing her by just 13 points. She takes 54% support to his 41% support.
The survey was conducted by live interview among 1,011 adults nationwide from Dec. 18-21, with a subsample of 453 Republicans and 469 Democrats, via landline and cell phone. The overall sample has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.