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Personal history boosts Hillary Clinton, hurts Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney

A new poll shows two pluses for Hillary Clinton in 2016 presidential race: her gender and her husband's presidency. Jeb Bush is hurt by his family legacy; Mitt Romney loses ground over failed 2012 bid.

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Former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton depart the former Governor of New York Mario Cuomo's funeral in Manhattan, N.Y., on Jan. 6. A new poll suggests that Ms. Clinton's stint as first lady could be a plus for her potential presidential bid.

Carlo Allegri/Reuters

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The emerging 2016 presidential field is chock-full of familiar names, including a Clinton, a Bush, and a Romney. But voter reactions to each one’s “legacy” qualities vary widely. And it’s Hillary Rodham Clinton who comes out on top.

Among registered voters, former Secretary of State Clinton gains both by the fact that she would be the first woman president and from positive memories of her husband’s presidency, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released Thursday.

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By a 13-point margin, voters are more likely to vote for Clinton because she’d be the first female president rather than less likely, the poll found. Some 24 percent are more likely; 11 percent are less likely. And the presidency of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, is a positive by 8 percentage points, 24 percent to 16 percent.

But for two top potential Republican contenders, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, legacy issues are a drag on their numbers. The fact that Mr. Bush’s father and brother both served as president is a net negative by 25 percentage points – 9 percent positive and 34 percent negative.

In Mr. Romney’s case, his 2012 nomination costs him a net 14 percentage points. Twelve percent of registered voters say they’re more likely to support Romney for that reason while 26 percent say they’re less likely.

“Most registered voters, 57 to 65 percent, say none of these items would be a factor in their vote,” including Clinton’s family legacy, writes ABC News pollster Gary Langer. “But a presidential election is a game of margins, making these views potentially important in the campaign ahead.”

In addition, Clinton beats all Republicans tested in hypothetical matchups by between 13 and 17 percentage points. The poll tested former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

But at this stage in the 2016 race, with no declared candidates, it’s too early to draw conclusions. If Clinton runs, as expected, she is poised to run away with the Democratic nomination. The expected big Republican field is wide open, though Romney’s recent moves toward a third campaign have roiled the establishment wing of the party.

“The potential GOP candidates may be hamstrung by their intramural battle ahead; core Republican support likely will coalesce around the ultimate nominee,” Mr. Langer says.

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For now, though, the prospect of a Bush-Romney showdown, in which they compete for many of the same donors, has some Republicans on edge. Bush and Romney are scheduled to meet privately in Utah this week, according to The New York Times.

The meeting raises “the possibility that the two former governors will find a way to avoid competing presidential campaigns that would split the Republican establishment next year,” the Times said, sourcing the report to “two prominent party members.”

Romney was governor of Massachusetts for one term (2003 to 2007), and declined to run again so he could focus on running for president in 2008.

The Times says Bush initiated the meeting, and that it was planned before Romney’s announcement two weeks ago that he might run again.