Opinion writer

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio holds a town hall meeting at the Laconia VFW in Laconia, N.H., Monday, Nov. 30, 2015. (AP Photo/Cheryl Senter)

THE MORNING PLUM:

As you faithful readers are well aware, at this early stage head-to-head general election polling is not at all predictive of campaign outcomes. So take what follows as merely an effort to plant a flag on something to keep an eye out for as the campaign progresses.

There is a striking finding in the new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll: Marco Rubio is tied with Hillary Clinton among young voters. Given the importance of Barack Obama’s overwhelming margins among young voters to his two victories — and, more broadly, given that Democrats are betting the future of the party on their rising coalition of young voters and minorities — this is something Democrats should probably start paying attention to right now.

The NBC/WSJ poll’s toplines are that Rubio holds a 48-45 lead over Clinton among adults nationally, effectively a tie. By contrast, Clinton leads Donald Trump by 50-40, and she leads Ted Cruz by 48-45 (also effectively a tie). But note this data from the crosstabs, sent over by the good folks at NBC:

— Clinton and Rubio are tied among voters who are 18-34 years old, 45-45.

— Clinton leads Trump among these voters, 54-33.

— Clinton leads Cruz among these voters, 49-40.

This is only one poll; the sample sizes are not that large; and again, early polling is not predictive. Also, the poll shows Ben Carson also practically ties Clinton among these young voters. But Carson is not credible; the point is that of the credible candidates, Rubio performs far better in this poll among these voters against Clinton than the others do. And note that the recent Quinnipiac poll also showed Rubio trailing Clinton by only seven points among young voters, a margin (if accurate) that is far too close for comfort and is far tighter than it is for Trump (who trails by 20 points among them) or Cruz (who trails by 18).

So take this as something to watch for: How Clinton will fare among young voters — and whether Rubio can substantially cut into the Dem advantage among them — are crucial unknowns. The Clinton campaign is already thinking about this: Amy Chozick of the New York Times reports that Clinton advisers have grown concerned that younger women are less excited by the historic promise of electing the first female president than Baby Boomer females are. The Clinton camp is moving to appeal to younger women with a focus on issues like equal pay, college affordability, and women’s health care. More broadly, it remains to be seen whether Clinton can motivate or culturally connect with young voters to the degree Obama did. Veteran Dem pollster Stan Greenberg recently sounded the alarm on this matter, too.

Why would Rubio do better (again, assuming the polling is on to something here) against Clinton among these voters than Cruz, who is the same age as the Florida Senator? Recall that the Rubio campaign is actively building its long term strategy around the belief that a GOP candidate must make inroads among Dem voter groups to win, while Cruz appears more wedded to the notion that running up huge turnout among evangelicals and other GOP base groups is the secret. Rubio is trying to strike hopeful, optimistic tones, and repeatedly says that a new generation of leaders is required, a point that Cruz appears far less interested in making. Rubio’s apparent performance edge over Trump and Cruz among young voters is another sign that nominating Trump or Cruz might be self-destructive demographic folly for the GOP.

To be sure, there are plenty of things that could prevent Rubio from seriously cutting into these voters, such as his conservative positions on abortion, women’s health, gay marriage, and climate change. But one of the big questions about 2016 remains remains whether Clinton can achieve Obama-level turnout among the voter groups that powered Obama’s two victories in national elections. And the prospect that the Democratic advantage among young voters is not a foregone conclusion is one Democrats should take seriously. This goes beyond just 2016, since young voters are crucial to the grand wager that Dems are placing on the idea that demographics — in the form of the Rising American Electorate of millennials, minorities, socially liberal college educated whites, and single women — will keep trending their way for the foreseeable future.

“That any Republican at this point can theoretically breach the Democratic demographic firewall is a reminder that the new coalition strategy was always more opportunity than destiny,” Dem strategist Simon Rosenberg, an early proponent of that demographic strategy, tells me. “It still needs to be earned by every Democratic candidate in every cycle. It’s clearly no longer a given.”

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* GOP CANDIDATES SILENT ON CLIMATE DEAL: Did you know that a landmark global climate deal was reached in Paris over the weekend? To the Republican presidential candidates, it isn’t really news at all:

In a stark display of the partisan divide in the United States over climate change, the Republican presidential candidates have said almost nothing about the Paris Agreement, even though whoever succeeds Mr. Obama will be tasked with carrying it out. Of the nine who will participate in Tuesday’s prime-time debate on CNN, only Gov. John Kasich of Ohio would provide an assessment of the deal when asked on Sunday.

As I’ve reported, a Republican president could pull the U.S. out of the deal, though in substantive and political terms it could prove a lot harder than it might seem.

* OBAMA MULLING A TRIP TO CUBA: In an interview with Olivier Knox, the President says it just might happen:

The president said he hopes that “sometime next year” he and his top aides will see enough progress in Cuba that they can say that “now would be a good time to shine a light on progress that’s been made, but also maybe (go) there to nudge the Cuban government in a new direction.” White House aides privately describe an Obama visit – under the right circumstances – as the logical culmination of the new policy direction that he announced almost exactly one year ago.

That — combined with the reaction from Republicans — would be quite the media spectacle.

* TRUMP-MENTUM RAGES ACROSS OUR FAIR LAND: A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll finds Donald Trump at the top among GOP primary voters nationally: He has 27 percent; Ted Cruz has surged to 22 percent; and Marco Rubio is at 15 percent. Ben Carson has tanked:

Carson is now in fourth at 11 percent (down 18 points) — and much of his support has transferred to Cruz. Indeed, while the poll shows Carson dropping 23 percentage points among “very conservative” Republican primary voters since October, it has Cruz up with this group by an equal amount.

As expected, Cruz is scooping up much of Carson’s support. If Trump fades, it seems plausible that Cruz will be able to grab a chunk of those spoils, too.

* TED CRUZ GRABS LEAD IN IOWA: A new Bloomberg/Des Moines Register poll finds that Ted Cruz has surged into a lead in Iowa: Cruz takes 31 percent of likely caucus-goers; Trump has 21 percent; Carson is at 13; and Rubio is at 10. Joshua Green digs out some important findings:

Cruz, for the first time, is winning both non-college voters (Cruz 32, Trump 23, Ben Carson 13) and college voters (Cruz 29, Trump 18, Carson 12) alike….respondents who say they support Trump have an extremely positive view of Cruz: 73 percent view him favorably, while 18 percent view him unfavorably.

Thus, Cruz appears to be attracting the non-college Republicans who might have been Trump supporters, and seems poised to scoop in more Trump voters. Relatedly, also see this excellent piece by Perry Bacon, Jr., on Cruz’s growing success among evangelicals.

* HILLARY EXPANDS LEAD IN IOWA: A new Bloomberg/Des Moines Register poll also finds that Hillary Clinton has increased her lead over Bernie Sanders in Iowa to 48-39 among likely Democratic caucus-goers. Here’s how they compare on a range of attributes:

Iowa voters who say they will definitely or probably attend the Democratic caucus give Clinton the edge in nine of 13 traits, including having the best temperament and life experience to be president and being best able to combat Islamic terrorism and manage the economy. More say Sanders is trustworthy and would do more to help the middle class and rein in Wall Street.

Clinton currently leads in the Iowa polling averages by 54-36. If she wins Iowa, that would offset a Sanders win in New Hampshire, which is far more likely, and then it’s on to the other contests where her broader coalition might give her an edge.

* THE FACTOID OF THE DAY: Courtesy of NBC News: “Since Sandy Hook, an American kid has died by a gun every other day.” NBC tallies up some 554 children under 12 killed by guns since the Newtown shooting in December of 2012. And it’s possible that the number is higher.

* REASONS FOR HOPE ABOUT CLIMATE DEAL? The Paris climate deal, by itself, won’t do nearly enough to keep warming at the threshold scientists have identified. But Paul Krugman notes that there are reasons for optimism, because technological advances are reducing the price of renewal energy, which could have long term ramifications:

This energy revolution has two big implications. The first is that the cost of sharp emission reductions will be much less than even optimists used to assume — dire warnings from the right used to be mostly nonsense, but now they’re complete nonsense. The second is that given a moderate boost — the kind that the Paris accord could provide — renewable energy could quickly give rise to new interest groups with a positive stake in saving the planet, offering an offset to the Kochs and suchlike.

Also: As energy consultants have told me, you could see some utilities in the U.S. begin deciding that this is the way of the future and thus push for smoother implementation of Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which will be key to the U.S. keeping its commitments to the deal.

 * AND AMERICANS WILL REJECT TRUMPISM. RIGHT? E.J. Dionne writes today that we must not forget that Trump’s support only represents a tiny right-wing sliver of the American electorate. But don’t get too complacent:

Our country is far more tolerant and sensible than you might imagine if all you did was pay attention to the Trump mania in the news coverage….But an exasperation with traditional politicians, anxieties over personal security and apprehensions about economic opportunity extend well beyond the far right. The politicians who count on the moderate majority can try its patience only for so long. Trump is a containable menace. He is also a wake-up call.

But wait, can’t we figure out a way to blame his rise on some platitudinous factor like a hatred of Washington or a desire for disruption, or perhaps on disaffected voters in both parties?