A poll released Tuesday from Public Policy Polling (PPP), a firm with ties to Democrats at the national level, reveals that Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is ahead of most of his potential opponents, but remains vulnerable: He could not muster more than 50 percent against a pack of mostly unknown Republicans.
Despite first emerging in Sunshine State politics in 1972 when he entered the Florida House, the poll, which evaluates the 2012 U.S. Senate race in Florida, found mixed reviews for Nelson. After more than a decade in Congress, a gubernatorial bid in 1990, six years in the Cabinet and a decade in the U.S. Senate, Nelson finds his job performance in the PPP poll wins 36 percent approval and 33 percent disapproval, while 31 percent are undecided.
Nelson trails one potential Republican opponent. The poll has former Gov. Jeb Bush taking 49 percent while the Democratic incumbent trails with 44 percent. Despite being out of office since 2006, Bush remains more popular than unpopular in Florida, winning 51 percent favorable ratings and 40 percent unfavorable.
The Democrat fares better against other potential Republican opponents. Nelson beats U.S. Rep. Connie Mack 44-36 and has the edge over current U.S. Sen. George LeMieux at 47 percent to 36 percent. Nelson takes 44 percent while Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos has 32 percent. Nelson takes 46 percent against former House Majority Leader Adam Hasners 30 percent.
Right now, it appears unlikely candidate Jeb Bush is the only Republican who could defeat Bill Nelson, said Dean Debnam of PPP. But Nelsons job performance reviews are not stellar, and Marco Rubio showed this year that a candidate can come out of nowhere to beat the odds.
But the poll reveals the other Republican candidates remain unknown to most Floridians.
The poll found Mack, whose father held the seat before Nelson, is seen as favorable by 20 percent and unfavorable by 24 percent, while 56 percent are not sure how to evaluate the Republican congressman. The poll also finds that, despite his 16 months in the Senate after being appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist, LeMieux remains relatively unknown -- with 16 percent of those surveyed seeing him as favorable, 27 percent as unfavorable and 58 percent not sure.
Haridopolos, who represents parts of Brevard, Indian River, Osceola and St. Lucie counties, andjust started his tenure as Florida Senate president, is seen as favorable by 4 percent and unfavorable by 26 percent, while 70 percent of those surveyed remain undecided. Hasner, who just left the House after representing parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties, is even more unknown -- with 4 percent of those surveyed viewing him as favorable and 18 percent as unfavorable, with a whopping 78 percent not sure.
Bush is the clear favorite of conservatives -- a crucial group in a Republican primary. They overwhelmingly see him as favorable -- 79 percent compared to 12 percent unfavorable. The other candidates remain mostly unknown to conservatives. LeMieux wins the approval of 27 percent of conservatives; 15 percent of them disapprove of him while 57 percent are not sure. Mack is seen as favorable by 24 percent of conservatives and unfavorable by 19 percent, but the58 percent majority are not sure. While 77 percent are not sure, Haridopolos is seen favorably by 5 percent of conservatives and unfavorably by 18 percent of them. Hasner again remains overwhelmingly unknown -- 87 percent of conservatives are not sure about the former state representative while 3 percent see him as favorable and 10 percent as unfavorable.
Other potential Republicans include U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, incoming U.S. Rep. Dan Webster and businessman and retired Army officer Mike McCalister who took 10 percent in the gubernatorial primary back in August.
The poll of 1,034 Florida voters was taken between Dec. 17 and 20 and has a margin of error of +/- 3 percent.
Reach Kevin Derby at email@example.com or at (85) 727-0859.