Setting the stage for one of the biggest U.S. House upsets of 2010, Republican Steve Southerland has built a double-digit lead over seven-term Rep. Allen Boyd in Florida's 2nd Congressional District, a new Sunshine State News Poll shows.
Southerland is beating Boyd 50-38 in the North Florida/Panhandle district, according to the poll conducted Oct. 14-17.
Though Boyd maintains a hefty fund-raising advantage over Southerland, a first-time candidate, the Democratic incumbent is bogged down by a 56 percent "unfavorable" rating. Just 33 percent of respondents view Boyd favorably, while Southerland enjoys a much healthier 45/32 favorable/unfavorable score.
"Boyds easy wins in the past have obviously come from a block of Republicans and mostly conservative Democrats, but now he has a 37 percent negative with Democrats," said James Lee, president of Voter Survey Service, which conducted the poll for Sunshine State News.
Boyd's growing unpopularity is manifest by the large field of opponents he attracted this year. Boyd narrowly beat back state Sen. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, while five Republicans vied in the GOP primary for the right to face the Monticello Democrat.
Southerland, who handily won that contest, is joined by two No Party Affiliation conservatives on the fall ballot.
But neither NPA candidate has made much of a dent in Southerland's support, according to the poll. Dianne Berryhill garnered 3 percent of respondents and Paul McKain got 2 percent, with 6 percent undecided.
While Boyd has locked up big PAC donations, in recent weeks Southerland has begun closing the funding gap, receiving cash infusions from the National Republican Congressional Committee and an alliance of conservative groups, led by Karl Rove and former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie.
State and national Republicans have sensed Boyd's vulnerability over his votes for the stimulus package and the federal health-care law. Both votes undercut his image as a fiscally conservative "Blue Dog" Democrat and opened the door for a GOP challenge.
The Wall Street Journal dispatched a writer to CD 2 last week to take the pulse of voters, and found Southerland tapping into rising angst over their representative.
At a Dixie County fish fry, columnist Kim Strassel observed the Panama City funeral-home owner blasting Boyd for double-dealing on the economy.
"You cannot campaign one way and legislate another," Southerland declared to shouts of "Amen."
Strassel concluded that Boyd, like other toothless fiscal watchdogs in the House, will pay the price next month.
"Their sham Blue Dog principles are the club with which the public beats them," she wrote.
Boyd's problems are highlighted in the Sunshine State News Poll by the apparent defections from his own party and deep discontent in the district over President Barack Obama's job performance.
Forty-eight percent of respondents to the Sunshine State News Poll identified themselves as Democrats, and 59 percent of respondents disapproved of Obama.
Boyd's campaign, with more than $600,000 in cash on hand as of Sept. 30, says it intends to hold Southland's "feet to the fire about where he truly stands on the issues, a difficulty that has plagued Steve throughout his entire campaign."
Pollster Lee said, "Boyds path to victory has to be to drive up Southerlands negatives primarily with Democrats. Southerland already has a 46 percent negative with Democrats."
Lee said another key to watch is Boyds 41 percent support with independents.
"Independents will only account for 1 in 10 votes cast, but Southerlands name ID among them is much more negative, an inverted 49-20 ratio in negative to positive (whereas Boyd is only 47-40)," he said.
But Southerland maintains that Boyd is out of step with CD 2, which he calls "a center-right district." Indeed, John McCain beat Obama there in 2008 with 54 percent of the vote.
"Conservative principles resonate here," Southerland says.
Lee is inclined to agree.
"If Boyds positives dont improve above 33 percent, he will have little to no room to grow above his 38 percent ballot support, particularly in a year like this when the undecided voters are prone to break against incumbents of the same party as the party in power (i.e., Democratic Congress)," Lee concluded.
The Sunshine State News Poll surveyed 830 likely voters, with a margin of error of +/- 3.4 percent.
For a look at the poll's crosstabs, click on the link below.
Contact Kenric Ward at email@example.com or at (772) 801-5341.