RANKED: Here’s where the GOP candidates stand going into their big debate Tuesday night

Donald Trump.
REUTERS/Joe Skipper

The top 10 Republican presidential candidates – and the bottom four – are set to square off Wednesday night in the third GOP debates of the cycle.

With just more than a year until the election, we took a look at where the GOP’s top contenders stand heading into the debate.

Our rankings are based on the Real Clear Politics averages of national polls and those in New Hampshire, Iowa, and South Carolina – the first three voting states. We also factored in candidates’ momentum (or lack thereof) over the past few weeks.

Here’s a look at where all the candidates stand.

(Poll numbers as of Tuesday.)

13. Rick Santorum, Republican, former senator from Pennsylvania

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It’s easy to forget that Santorum won 11 states in his 2012 primary matchup with Mitt Romney, the eventual Republican nominee – including the Iowa caucus.

That’s because so far – even though he is the first candidate to crisscross all of Iowa’s 99 counties this time – he hasn’t been even a blip on the radar in the 2016 race.

He is facing much stauncher competition this time around, and he has not solved his biggest problem from 2012: money. He raised less than $400,000 in the latest fundraising quarter, the kind of money that doesn’t bode well for staying power in a crowded field.

The state that provided his biggest win in 2012, Iowa, also hasn’t given him the same kind of love. Despite focusing on the Hawkeye State, he still barely registers in polling there, placing 11th in an average of recent polls.

National polling average among Republican voters: 0.4% (T-12th) Iowa: 1.4% (11th) New Hampshire: 1% (T-10th) South Carolina: N/A

STOCK: Neutral

12. Bobby Jindal, Republican, Louisiana governor

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Coming out of 2012 and into the 2016 cycle, Jindal was viewed as one of the GOP’s rising stars. But his stock both nationally and in his home state of Louisiana has plummeted over the past few years, as his state has fallen into financial disarray.

The result is what is showing up in polls: He has yet to break out of the bottom of the GOP pack. And a Louisiana poll recently showed he would lose his home state to Hillary Clinton in a general-election matchup.

Jindal raised less than $600,000 in the most recent fundraising quarter, and he has been relegated to another lower-tier GOP debate.

National polling average among Republican voters: 0.4% (T-12th) Iowa: 2.8% (8th) New Hampshire: 0.5% (13th) South Carolina: N/A

STOCK: Neutral

11. Lindsey Graham, Republican, senator from South Carolina


Graham was the clear winner of the “kid’s table” debate in September, but he has been unable to build any quantifiable momentum off it.

He’s not registering in Iowa. He barely shows up in New Hampshire polling. In his home state of South Carolina, he’s just seventh in a crowded field.

The Republican base has soured on Graham’s support of immigration reform. He has rejected Donald Trump’s comments on immigration. But far more voters, as polls have shown, have instead rallied around Trump. And lately, he sounds exasperated about the phenomenon of Trump and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.

“On our side, you got the number two guy – tried to kill somebody at 14,” Graham said. “And the number one guy is high energy and crazy as hell. How am I losing to these people?”

National polling average among Republican voters: 0.6% (11th) Iowa: N/A New Hampshire: 0.8% (12th) South Carolina: 3% (7th)

STOCK: Rising

10. Chris Christie, Republican, New Jersey governor

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Christie, whose national status has been in decline for the past 18 months, has failed to build much momentum in the first three months of his campaign. He’s still languishing toward the bottom tier of the crowded field.

He does seem to have a clear plan, based on his frequent visits north: He is banking on a win in New Hampshire to jump-start his run to the nomination.

But therein lies a problem: He’s just ninth in the Granite State, according to a recent average of polls there. He hasn’t been able to gain any ground over the past few months. And a lot of similar, establishment-type candidates, including Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich, are investing significant resources there, too.

Christie’s problems in his home state of New Jersey have been well documented, but they show no signs of abating. He raised more than $4 million last quarter, but he enters a crucial stretch with less than $1.5 million in cash on hand.

National polling average among Republican voters: 2.4% (9th) Iowa: 1.2% (12th) New Hampshire: 3.3% (9th) South Carolina: 1.3% (11th)

STOCK: Neutral

9. Mike Huckabee, Republican, former Arkansas governor

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Huckabee has continued an attempt to endear himself to conservative, evangelical voters. But something is clearly not working. In a recent Iowa poll, Ben Carson received more than one-third of the evangelical vote.

And the first part of his path to the nomination – win Iowa – is in serious limbo: He polls just ninth in the Hawkeye State, and he has kept slipping there over the past few months.

This Republican field may be too crowded for a candidate like Huckabee. He is extremely popular with evangelical conservatives, but many of those conservatives look as if they’re flocking to candidates such as Carson, Ted Cruz, and even Donald Trump.

National polling average among Republican voters: 4% (7th) Iowa: 2% (T-9th) New Hampshire: 1% (T-10th) South Carolina: 2.7% (8th)

STOCK: Neutral

8. John Kasich, Republican, Ohio governor

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Kasich was one of the biggest winners of the first prime-time Republican debate in August. But he has struggled to build much momentum in the past two-plus months.

Kasich sits just 10th in polls nationally, teetering on the brink of qualifying for the GOP debate this month. And in New Hampshire, where he has surged amid investing significant resources, he’s only in seventh place.

Those who talk up Kasich believe he is a Chris Christie-type without the baggage of the past year and a half – that is, a successful governor with a record to point to and clear bipartisan appeal. He also has a plethora of experience from serving nearly two decades in Congress, including foreign-policy areas and his time as chair of the House Budget Committee.

But that same bipartisan brand could hurt Kasich with the GOP base. He is to the left of most GOP candidates on immigration reform, and he expanded the federal Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act – two issues that could doom him with hard-line conservatives.

National polling average among Republican voters: 2% (10th) Iowa: 2% (T-9th) New Hampshire: 7% (7th) South Carolina: 2.3% (9th)

STOCK: Falling

7. Rand Paul, Republican, senator from Kentucky

EUTERS/Chris Keane

Paul is the unconventional candidate of the Republican field. But he has so far been unable to latch on and break through as a clear top-tier candidate. And his problems have only been exacerbated over the past few months.

Paul has seen a bit of an uptick in polls recently, but he has not been able to break through from his initial plunge over the summer and early fall. Of particular note is his drop in Iowa, where he has fallen from second (9.8%) in July to sixth (3.8%).

Paul raised about $2.5 million in the latest quarter, but he enters the late-year stretch with just more than $2 million cash on hand.

National polling average among Republican voters: 3.2% (8th) Iowa: 3.8% (T-6th) New Hampshire: 4.3% (8th) South Carolina: 2% (10th)

STOCK: Neutral

6. Carly Fiorina, Republican, former Hewlett-Packard CEO

REUTERS/Mary Schwalm

Heading into the third Republican debate, it’s looking as if Fiorina needs another strong performance to reverse what has been a mini-slide over the past few weeks.

Fiorina surged after she stole the show with a stunning performance during the lower-tier Republican debate in August. She continued her role when she took it to the other candidates on the main stage late last month and produced another stellar debate performance.

Her debate performances have cemented a candidacy that had gained a reliable following among the Republican base since her announcement, as she consistently drew some of the most head-nodding crowds at large GOP summits.

But amid her rise has come more scrutiny over her record at Hewlett-Packard, and she has dipped slightly from her third-place standing nationally last month.

Still, she has experience as a business executive that few others in the field can point to, and she has been one of Hillary Clinton’s fiercest critics. And there’s another debate coming up.

National polling average among Republican voters: 5.4 (6th) Iowa: 3.8% (6th) New Hampshire: 7.8% (5th) South Carolina: 7% (T-4th)

STOCK: Falling

5. Jeb Bush, Republican, former Florida governor

REUTERS/Mike Stone

October was billed as a crucial month for the Bush campaign. November could be even more significant in determining whether Bush, once billed as the clear front-runner for the nomination, can regain that status.

Bush has anonymous donors sniping at his candidacy. He has started to slash payroll.

He has seen Donald Trump sap the momentum he had built after his official campaign announcement in June. He’s had two middle-of-the-pack performances in the GOP debates. All of it has led to slumping poll numbers across the board – his 17% national average in July has dipped almost 10 points over the past three months.

Bush has showed, however, that he is a dynamic fundraiser. An aligned super PAC raised more than $100 million in the first six months of the year. And Bush enters the home stretch with more cash on hand for the primary than any candidate aside from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Ben Carson.

National polling average among Republican voters: 7.2% (5th) Iowa: 6.2% (5th) New Hampshire: 9% (3rd) South Carolina: 6% (6th)

STOCK: Falling

4. Ted Cruz, Republican, senator from Texas

Cruz has quietly run an under-the-radar campaign that puts him in sneakily good position to be one of the finalists for the nomination.

Cruz is amid the top tier of GOP polling, and his eye-popping fundraising numbers mean he will most likely be in the race for the long haul. He raised the third-most of any Republican candidate last quarter, and he has the most cash on hand entering the home stretch.

Meanwhile, two of his biggest potential Republican rivals – Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and former Gov. Rick Perry of Texas – have dropped out of the race, leaving him with many of their supporters and donors.

Cruz inspires a flood of enthusiasm among the GOP base, and he may be the best-positioned candidate from within the political sphere to back up the notion that he’s not a typical politician, that he is the outsider the base wants despite his day job in Washington.

National polling average among Republican voters: 7.8% (4th) Iowa: 9.6% (4th) New Hampshire: 5.5% (7th) South Carolina: 7% (T-4th)

STOCK: Rising

3. Marco Rubio, Republican, senator from Florida

REUTERS/Mary Schwalm

Rubio is quickly becoming the establishment favorite for the Republican nomination.

He’s a younger alternative in the Republican crowd, and he counts supporters among both the establishment and the more conservative GOP base. He has had strong performances in both prime-time GOP debates – particularly in the September affair.

The polling is starting to catch up with the hype. He is now third in national polls, and he has bumped up 5 points in Iowa and more than 3 points in New Hampshire over the past month.

One concern is his fundraising: He raised less than $6 million in the latest quarter. But deep-pocketed donors are showing signs of potentially rallying around him.

National polling average among Republican voters: 9.2% (3rd) Iowa: 10.3% (4th) New Hampshire: 8.3% (4th) South Carolina: 8% (3rd)

STOCK: Rising

2. Ben Carson, Republican, retired neurosurgeon

REUTERS/Mike Stone

One of the biggest risers continues to be Carson, who for the first time since July became a candidate who overtook Donald Trump for first place in a national poll. Carson has also gained the lead in a slew of Iowa polls over the past week.

Like Trump, Carson is a Washington outsider who has shown he can appeal to a broader electorate.

Carson has also shown some fund-raising prowess – he raised nearly $21 million last quarter, more than any other Republican candidate. He enters the home stretch with more than $11 million in cash on hand.

Indeed, even some of the more controversial things to come out of Carson’s mouth – such as his recent comments about Muslims – have only helped boost his fundraising and his poll numbers.

National polling average among Republican voters: 21.4% (2nd) Iowa: 27.7% (1st) New Hampshire: 14% (2nd) South Carolina: 19% (2nd)

STOCK: Rising

1. Donald Trump, Republican, businessman


Trump has lit the political world on fire since his entry into the race early this summer. And he has showed surprising staying power – even amid Carson’s rise.

There’s a clear appetite among Republican primary voters for someone like Trump, whose claims about illegal immigration have again inflamed the debate over immigration reform.

And with his claim that he is worth more than $10 billion, he will not be pressed for funds. He said he was willing to spend $100 million of his own fortune for the nomination. That said, he has barely had to spend anything yet – money from mostly small donors filled his campaign coffers with almost $4 million last quarter.

The next month could be crucial for Trump. With Carson beginning to take control in Iowa, the first-caucus state, does the trend spread nationally? Or does the Trump train keep gaining steam?

National polling average among Republican voters: 27.2% (1st) Iowa: 22% (2nd) New Hampshire: 29.5% (1st) South Carolina: 29.5% (1st)

STOCK: Neutral

And to the polls … here’s a look at where the candidates stand in their respective parties in a combined average of national, New Hampshire, Iowa, and South Carolina polls.

Andy Kiersz/Business Insider

Now, meet one of the front-runners.

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

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