Former Gov. Charlie Crist, the favorite for the Democratic nomination despite spending most of his career as a Republican, is leading Gov. Rick Scott 47 percent to 40 percent, according to a University of Florida poll of registered voters released Wednesday.
The poll finds Scott doing better against other Democratic candidates. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., leads Scott 46 percent to 42 percent. Scott has the edge over former state Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich, beating her 41 percent to 36 percent. Rich has been in the race since April 2012 while Nelson has left the door open to running but has downplayed speculation that he will challenge Scott.
The poll shows Florida voters look back fondly at Crists term in office with 63 percent approving it while 27 percent disapproved of his tenure. Voters are divided on Scotts time in office with 46 percent disapproving of it and 45 percent approving of it.
The poll finds the two candidates running close in the minds of Floridians on some fronts. A majority of voters -- 55 percent -- say Crist is honest and ethical, while 51 percent say the same about Scott. Both candidates are going after their rivals integrity, with Crist bashing the governors record in the private sector and Scott attacking the new Democrat for switching parties and positions on a host of issues.
A majority thinks both candidates can improve the economy, with 53 percent thinking Crist has the knowledge while 52 percent say the same of Scott. The governor has rapped Crist for allowing the unemployment rate to go to 11.3 percent during his term in office, while Scotts team has been trumpeting the drop to 6.2 percent under the Republican. This week, Crist has attacked big business leaders, including Scott, for causing the economic slowdown.
Crist does have an edge in the poll when it comes to understanding the problems of average Floridians, with 53 percent thinking the Democrat has that knowledge. Only 39 percent say that about Scott.
According to the poll, likely voters are paying close attention to the race, with 66 percent of them saying they are following it with a great deal of interest. Twenty-nine percent are following with a fair amount of interest.
For months now. political analysts have been describing Floridas 2014 governors race as the top race in the nation, said Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida. The only question has been whether Floridians are as interested in the race as national election forecasters are. Now we know they are and its only February.
The poll of 1,006 registered voters was taken Jan. 27-Feb. 1 and had a margin of error of +/- 3 percent.
Polls show Crist ahead, though the margin over Scott remains in doubt. Last week, Quinnipiac University released a poll showing Crist ahead of Scott by 8 percent while Public Policy Polling (PPP) had a poll last month showing Crist ahead by 2 percent.
A poll released by Gravis late Tuesday finds a tight battle in the Florida gubernatorial contest, with Crist taking 47 percent while Scott takes 44 percent. Adrian Wyllie, the favorite to be the Libertarian nominee, pulled 3 percent in that one.
The poll of 808 registered Florida voters was taken Jan. 30-31 and had a margin of error of +/- 4 percent.
Reach Kevin Derby at firstname.lastname@example.org.