Clinton leads Christie in early 2016 presidential poll

Chris Christie and Hillary Clinton
(L to R) Getty Images, Adam Jeffery | CNBC

In the battle of way-too-early front-runners, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has opened with a lead over New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in a potential 2016 presidential matchup, according to a new poll.

A new NBC News poll shows that Clinton, a Democrat, would draw 44 percent of the vote to 35 percent for Christie, a Republican. The survey of 1,003 adults, conducted for NBC by Princeton Survey Research, carries a margin for error of 3.6 percentage points.

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The survey shows that Clinton, who is contemplating a 2016 race, would begin a nomination bid with a huge head start over possible rivals. Fully 66 percent of Democrats in the survey said they would back her.

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Christie, who just won a second gubernatorial term in a landslide but has drawn fire from some conservatives, enjoys a smaller initial edge. Some 32 percent of Republicans in the survey say they'd back him, compared to 31 percent who prefer "another Republican" and 37 percent who don't know or wouldn't say.

—By CNBC's John Harwood. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnJHarwood