A poll released Thursday shows that Democrat Bill Nelson can expect a tough contest to retain his Senate seat in November if he is challenged by U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, the overwhelming favorite to win the Republican nomination.
The poll of registered voters shows Nelson beats out Mack, taking 43 percent while the Republican garners 39 percent.
Both candidates have their base behind them, with 80 percent of Democrats backing Nelson and 81 percent of Republicans behind Mack. The poll shows independents are leaning toward Nelson, with 44 percent backing the incumbent and 33 percent supporting Mack.
Nelson beats out Mack with women voters, taking 44 percent, while the Republican garners the support of 36 percent of them. Male voters divide evenly with each candidate taking 42 percent of them.
Despite Nelson's four decades on the Florida political stage, he garners mixed marks from voters in the poll while Mack remains somewhat unknown.
"Senator Nelson gets modest reviews from voters who give him a 47-to-32 percent job approval rating," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "By 46-to-33 percent they say he deserves another term. He gets a 44-to-26 percent favorability rating. By comparison, Mack has a 34-to-22 percent favorability rating, with 42 percent who don't know enough about him to form an opinion."
While Nelson is in a close contest with Mack, the Democrat handily leads other potential Republican candidates. Nelson takes 45 percent when matched against businessman and retired Army officer Mike McCalister who garners 34 percent. Nelson does even better when matched against former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, who pulled out of the race and endorsed Mack on Wednesday after the poll was taken. Taking 47 percent, Nelson solidly beats LeMieux who garners 32 percent. Nelson does best when matched up with former U.S. Rep. Dave Weldon, besting him 47 percent to 31 percent.
The poll shows that Mack has a commanding lead over the rest of the Republican field with less than two months to go until the primary. While 39 percent of Republicans are undecided, Mack takes 41 percent. With 8 percent backing LeMieux, the two candidates still left opposing Mack are stuck in the single digits, with 5 percent backing McCalister and 3 percent Weldon.
"At this point, the Republican Senate nomination is Congressman Connie Mack's to lose," insisted Brown. "In politics, anything is possible and we still have two months to go until the Senate primary, but it would take a major change in public opinion for one of the other candidates to stop Connie Mack. And the projected November election between U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Mack looks like it could go down to the wire."
The poll of 1,697 registered Florida voters was taken from June 12-18 and had a margin of error of +/- 2.4 percent. This includes a sample of 698 Republican voters with a margin of error of +/- 3.7 percent.
Reach Kevin Derby at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (850) 727-0859.