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Surging Cruz, Rubio Pass Carson as Republicans Ready for Debate

FILE - Republican president candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, speaks to supporters at the Guntersville Civic Center in Guntersville, Alabama, Dec. 1, 2015.

One week before the next debate among Republican presidential candidates, and less than two months before voters have their first say in the race, polls show some dramatic movement with two candidates rising fast, one plummeting and Donald Trump still far in the lead.

An average of the latest major polls as calculated by Real Clear Politics indicates 29 percent of people backing Trump to be the Republican nominee, but it is the race to catch him where candidates in the crowded field are separating into distinct groups.

Those surging include Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who have ridden a wave of support following the last debate in November to climb into second and third place. Cruz is at 15.5 percent in the poll average and Rubio just behind him at 14.8 percent.

Their rise has come during the sharp fall of neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who briefly took over the top spot just before the last debate, but has seen his support nearly cut in half as he dropped to fourth place at less than 14 percent.​

FILE - Republican presidential candidate, Dr. Ben Carson speaks at a rally in Pahrump, Nevada.
FILE - Republican presidential candidate, Dr. Ben Carson speaks at a rally in Pahrump, Nevada.

Carson has not been this low in the polls since early September when the race was a jumbled mess of candidates seeking to break out and challenge the front-running Trump.

But much has changed since then. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush's 10 percent support has evaporated to less than 4 percent as he joined a group of candidates in single digits who would barely qualify for the December 15 debate if only judged by national polls.

CNN, which is hosting the debate, said only those getting at least 3.5 percent support nationwide, or 4 percent in either Iowa or New Hampshire, can participate. The state polls -- particularly in New Hampshire -- are good news for Ohio Governor John Kasich, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, businesswoman Carly Fiorina and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who are all under 3.5 percent in the national average.

Whoever emerges as the Republican nominee will likely face former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton if the national poll indications hold. She sits at more than 56 percent, putting her 25 points ahead of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

When asked their preferences in head-to-head races, those polled this month have picked Clinton over Trump and Cruz. A race between Clinton and Rubio is closer, with each candidate taking small victories in a few national polls.

The parties will officially name their nominees at conventions in July 2016 and the election takes place in November.

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