Charlie Crist has Reasons to Smile, Bill Nelson to Scowl
Around the State
Despite leading Gov. Rick Scott by a smaller margin than he did earlier in the year, a new Quinnipiac University poll has some good news for former Gov. Charlie Crist, especially with skeptics from his new party wondering if he can catch on with Florida Democrats.
Crist was up 16 percent against Scott in March and his lead has narrowed to 47 percent to 37 percent in the new poll. But that’s the same margin that U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson has over Scott -- 48 percent to 38 percent.
Some of Crist’s critics in the Democrat ranks insist that their party is not behind the former governor. That leaves a window open for other possible candidates such as Nelson, former state CFO Alex Sink and former Florida Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich. Crist, after all, had been a Republican until 2010 when he ran for the U.S. Senate with no party affiliation. Only in 2012 did Crist switch over to the Democrats.
But Crist has reached out to Democrats since losing the Senate race in 2010. He has become much more liberal on social issues, including backing gay marriage. During the 2012 election, Crist endorsed Barack Obama and spoke at the Democratic convention. Crist has been meeting with party activists across Florida.
There are signs that Democrats are warming up to him despite his years as a Republican. The poll finds Crist actually does better with Democrats against Scott than Nelson does. Both do well, of course, but Crist gets 83 percent of Democrats while Nelson gets 82 percent. That’s an impressive figure for Crist, especially since he has only been in his new party for six months.
Democrats also see Crist as more favorable than they do Nelson. Only 11 percent of Democrats see Crist as unfavorable but 67 percent have a favorable take on Crist. Nelson is seen as favorable by 59 percent of Democrats, unfavorable by 5 percent of them, but 34 percent don’t know enough about him to have an opinion. That’s stunning, especially since Nelson won a third term in the Senate last year and has been around in Florida politics for 40 years.
Even when the survey is expanded to include all voters, Nelson remains somewhat unknown, with 33 percent not sure about how they feel about him. Nelson gets favorable marks by 41 percent of all voters and 23 percent see him as unfavorable. Crist is better known with 48 percent of all voters saying they see him as favorable and 31 percent seeing him as unfavorable.
Nan Rich might be getting her name out there in recent weeks but she has a long way to go to become a factor in the 2014 race. She’s the one Democrat that Scott leads, losing to him by 6 percent in the poll. But only 7 percent of all voters see Rich as favorable and 6 percent see her as unfavorable, while the rest know little about her. Even with Democrats, Rich is only seen as favorable by 12 percent and unfavorable by 2 percent.
Nelson is going out of his way to say he has no plans to run while leaving the window slightly open. It’s as if Nelson is hedging his bets in case the party leaders think he is the only Democrat who can beat Scott. This poll shows Crist can do just as well against Scott as Nelson can. It even shows Crist in better shape with Florida Democrats than Nelson is. While Scott might be narrowing the gap, this poll has plenty of good news for Charlie Crist and his supporters.
Tallahassee freelance political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this piece exclusively for Sunshine State News.