A Sunshine State News Poll of likely Republican presidential primary voters finds a large chunk of them -- 42 percent -- remain undecided in choosing a candidate to take on Democrat incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, but those who have a preference are breaking heavily toward U.S. Rep. Connie Mack.
Mack, whose father held the Senate seat for two terms, takes 40 percent in the poll, conducted by Harrisburg, Pa.-based Voter Survey Service (VSS) and has a sizable lead over the rest of the pack of Republican hopefuls.
Jim Lee, president of VSS, weighed in on the poll results to Sunshine State News.
“Presumably, Mack is winning because of superior name ID, but is his support solidified, or is it a mile wide but only an inch deep?” Lee asked. “Not addressed in the poll but central to Mack’s staying power are the following questions: Can LeMieux convince voters he is the true ‘outsider’ with his charge that Mack is a ‘career politician’? Will any of the other candidates (besides LeMieux and Mack) have the resources to communicate a message in a state like Florida with expensive and multiple media markets? Which candidate will have the best contrast with Nelson? And what kind of impact could the GOP establishment have with troops on the ground if/when they do an endorsement?”
Lee also stressed that LeMieux’s ties to his ex-boss, former Gov. Charlie Crist, could hurt the former senator in the primary. Crist remains a persona non grata with Florida Republicans for leaving the GOP during the 2010 election cycle when he sought a U.S. Senate seat with no party affiliation.
“Will LeMieux’s ties to Crist likely hurt him with GOP voters and will the tea party be a factor in the race for any particular candidate?” Lee asked. “Since LeMieux has pledged not to accept earmarks if elected, is he planning to use this as a wedge issue against Mack to undermine his conservative credentials?”
Lee said the dramatic Republican U.S. Senate primary in Delaware during the 2010 campaign cycle could offer insight into how the Florida contest shapes out.
“One good comparison race perhaps is the U.S. Senate GOP primary in Delaware held back in 2010 between tea party-backed candidate Christine O’Donnell (at the time a perennial losing candidate everyone wrote off) and moderate Republican Congressman Mike Castle,” Lee told Sunshine State News.
“Castle was the GOP ‘establishment’ candidate who had a huge early lead in the polls and the only one who people thought could win a Democratic-leaning state like Delaware in a general election. Castle was ultimately defeated in the GOP primary when O’Donnell defined him as too much of a moderate on fiscal and social issues. However, O’Donnell’s loss in November cost the Republicans the seat.”
“Mack’s base of 40 percent is admirable, but if you add the collective votes from the others -- 18 percent -- to the 42 percent undecided, you have up to 60 percent who are up for grabs,” Lee said. “August is a long way off, so if the GOP presidential race has taught us anything, it is that these types of huge leads so early in the game are subject to change. Polls are snapshots in time, remember.”
The poll of 1,266 likely Republican primary voters was taken Jan. 11-14 and had a margin of error of +/- 2.75 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.
VSS is the same firm that in 2010 conducted some of the most accurate polls taken of races in the Florida primary and general election. It has conducted hundreds of polls in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Florida, Delaware, Maryland, and other states across the nation. It is a leading survey research and political polling firm for GOP candidates for public office and a variety of corporate clients, trade associations, public relations firms and the media.
The work it did in Florida in 2010, commissioned and reported by Sunshine State News, included polls on all races in the primaries and the general election -- some of them taken more than once, as issues and trends through the summer and fall shifted.
RealClearPolitics.com gave VSS/Sunshine State News a tip of the cap after the primary elections because its poll results, particularly in the surprise gubernatorial race, were nearly "spot on." The election ended with Bill McCollum at 43.5 percent, Rick Scott at 46.5 percent and the spread at plus 2.9 percent. The last VSS/Sunshine poll taken showed McCollum at 42 percent, Scott at 44 percent and the spread at plus 2 percent. No other polling firm came anywhere near Sunshine's result.
Lee has 17 years of polling experience and background as a former lobbyist for the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry and as a special projects coordinator for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. He has a bachelor of science degree in political science from Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pa., and he's a member of both the American Association of Public Opinion Research and the American Association of Political Consultants.
Keep an eye on Sunshine State News all this week for more poll results, looking at how Florida Republicans view Gov. Rick Scott and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.
See the poll's crosstabs in the attachment below.
Reach Kevin Derby at email@example.com or at (850) 727-0859.