Sen. Bill Nelson, Charlie Crist and Sen. Marco Rubio
Of three of the biggest political names in Florida, only one -- former Gov. Charlie Crist -- has a favorable rating topping 40 percent, according to a new Sunshine State News poll.
The former governor, who bolted the Republican Party and ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate as an independent in 2010, enjoys a 42 percent favorable rating -- besting both U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson.
Just eight months after losing to Rubio, Crist now holds a 42-33 favorable/unfavorable rating compared with Rubio's tighter 38-34 ranking.
Nelson, who is up for re-election in 2012, has a 32-27 favorable/unfavorable score. Surprisingly, 41 percent of respondents expressed no opinion or were "not aware" of him, an astonishingly high figure for a two-term senator and former congressman who has held elective office for four decades.
"Bill Nelson’s numbers are certainly underwhelming for a guy who has been on the Florida political stage for so many years, but you can’t say he can’t win next year either," said Jim Lee, president of Voter Survey Service, which conducted the July 5-7 poll.
"With a 32-27 ratio in hard name ID, he clearly has room to grow since 41 percent still have no opinion of him. And while his 48-15 positive/negative image with Democrats is decent and still shows room for more growth, his negative image with Republicans (18-38) will be key to watch because, while it’s not good, it could still be a lot worse," Lee said.
Lee said Nelson's mixed 29-30 ratio with independents will also be important to monitor because President Barack Obama’s popularity "will to some extent impact Nelson’s re-election."
"Republicans will try to make the case that Nelson has been a reliable vote for the president’s agenda (and independents currently disapprove of Obama by a 51-34 margin). Both Obama and Nelson could sink or swim together," Lee said.
The Sunshine State News Poll, which surveyed 1,000 registered likely voters, indicated that Crist's political prospects have revived since November while Rubio's have dipped since taking office.
"The best way to analyze the numbers for Rubio and Crist is to look at them in context of each other," Lee said. "While it’s somewhat surprising that Crist has a better total fav/unfav than Rubio, the key is that Rubio is still the darling of Republicans (60-16) while Crist's standing with the GOP is inverted 42-31 (negative/ positive)."
Crist gets his strongest support from Democrats (55-24) and each man breaks even with independents, though Crist gets slightly more of them.
"Rubio’s next election is a long way off, but currently his problem is that he needs to broaden his coalition of supporters beyond simply Republicans, because next time he runs he’ll be on the ballot in a presidential year when turnout is typically higher among minorities and younger voters, both of which tend to vote more Democratic in national elections," Lee said.
Additionally, it's unlikely that Rubio will benefit from a strong three-way race as he did in 2010, when Crist and Democrat Kendrick Meek split the center-left vote.
Crist, currently a Morgan & Morgan attorney specializing in "mass torts" and class-action lawsuits, has not closed the door on a future political campaign. In May, Sunshine State News quoted several strategists making a case for his return to the governor's office in 2014 ... as a Democrat.
Today's poll -- following Wednesday's survey showing Gov. Rick Scott's negatives soaring to 58 percent -- could stoke further speculation about a Crist comeback bid.
"When I compare Charlie Crist to Rick Scott, I begin by thinking about how they won office. Crist climbed the cursus honorum of Florida politics, while Scott simply wrote a check. That difference is reflected in how they approach their responsibilities, particularly in their respective beliefs in the electoral system," said Peter Schorsch, who edits the political website, SaintPetersblog.com.
"Charlie Crist deserves a profile-in-courage for what he did to protect the power of an individual's vote, be it on the need for a paper trail, the restoration of civil rights or the decision to keep open the polls during the 2008 presidential election.
"Meanwhile, Rick Scott signed legislation this year disenfranchising voters. On this issue alone, the difference between Crist and Scott is monumental -- and wide enough for Crist to march through on his way back into the governor's office," Schorsch said.
As for Nelson's prospects against a growing field of Republican challengers in the 2012 U.S. Senate contest, University of South Florida St. Petersburg professor Seth McKee downplayed the apparent ambivalence about the Democrat.
"This isn't a terribly surprising finding because the Florida electorate is so fluid and transient. My guess is that most statewide Florida politicians suffer from the same affliction of not being very well known by the voters."
McKee cited Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Attorney General Pam Bondi as two examples.
"Additionally, Sen. Nelson isn't a polarizing figure like Marco Rubio and especially Gov. Rick Scott, and thus his actions typically don't draw strong reactions," McKee said.
Nelson's bigger hurdle is the economy, McKee says, but he adds that a right-wing Republican could be marginalized in the general election.
"If the GOP nominee is beholden to the tea party and fails to move to the center in the general election then Sen. Nelson will easily win re-election," he predicted, noting that "minority participation is much greater" in a presidential election year.
"It appears at the moment that he might get another ideologue out of the Katherine Harris mold and if he does, it won't be much of a contest."
Neither Crist nor Nelson responded to Sunshine State News' request for comment.
Rubio's press office declined to comment.
This statewide poll was conducted July 5-7 for Sunshine State News with 1,000 registered likely voters. Only voters with prior vote history in general elections 2006 and/or 2008 were contacted. Interviews are randomly selected and conducted from a statewide voter file using our IVR (or automated) polling software which uses a prerecorded voice to ask the questions, with respondents then instructed to score their answers by using their telephone key pads. Interviews are closely monitored to ensure a representative sample of Florida's electorate is achieved based on geography, party affiliation, gender, age and other demographics; results are sometimes statistically weighted. The margin of error for a sample size of 1,000 interviews is +/- 3.10 percent at the 95 percent confidence level, but higher for subgroups of respondents.
See cross tabs in the attachment below.
On Tuesday you read U.S. Jobless Numbers Dragging Barack Obama Down in Florida
On Wednesday you read For Gov. Rick Scott, a Tough Road to Reform
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