The Florida Senate race appears to be a whole new ballgame with Republican Gov. Charlie Crist’s decision to run as an independent.
A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely Florida voters finds Crist earning 38 percent support to Republican Marco Rubio’s 34 percent and Democrat Kendrick Meek’s 17 percent, while 11 percent are undecided.
Two weeks ago, before Crist announced his decision to run as an independent candidate, Rubio held a seven point advantage in the race.
Since then, Crist has gained 8 percentage points in the poll, while Rubio and Meek have dropped 3 each. It remains to be seen whether this is a temporary bounce or a lasting change in the race.
Crist, who announced his decision to run as an independent Thursday, again is embracing President Obama’s economic stimulus plan, a move that first got him in trouble in the Republican Party. He’s also clearly courting Democrats who have been less than enthusiastic to date about Meek’s candidacy.
Rasmussen conducted the survey of 500 likely voters in Florida on May 3. The margin of sampling error is +/-4.5 percentage points with a 95 percent level of confidence.
Support for repeal of the national healthcare plan remains even higher in Florida than it is nationally. In the Sunshine State 62 percent of voters now favor repeal, while just 33 percent oppose it. This includes 49 percent who strongly favor repeal and 25 percent who strongly oppose it.
Nearly 65 percent of voters who strongly oppose repeal favor Crist’s candidacy, while 62 percent of the larger group who strongly favor repeal back Rubio.
Nearly 60 percent of conservative voters in the state support Rubio, while 56 percent of the liberals and 55 percent of the moderates like Crist.
The new survey is the first time Crist has led Rubio in months. In early April, Crist earned just 28 percent of the vote and trailed Rubio by 29 percentage points. The early front-runner in the race, he went into freefall as GOP voter unhappiness with his embrace of the stimulus plan paralleled growing awareness and support of Rubio, the Cuban-American former state House speaker.
Although 56 percent of Florida voters think a political primary is a good way for parties to pick nominees, the good news for Crist is that 55 percent also say they have voted for an independent candidate at least once. Just over 40 percent say they have never voted for an independent.
However, Republicans and unaffiliated voters in Florida are more likely than Democrats to have voted for an independent.
Just 31 percent of all voters in the state think Republicans and Democrats are so much alike that a new political party is needed, while 55 percent disagree.
Another positive for Crist: 62 percent of voters in the state approve of how he is handling the role of governor, up 6 points from early April, while 38 percent disapprove.
One-fourth of Florida voters view Crist very favorably, and 16 percent, unfavorably. Meanwhile, 18 percent have a very favorable opinion of Rubio, and 22 percent view him very unfavorably.
For Meek, very favorables are 10 percent and very unfavorable, 17 percent. He is by far the least well-known candidate in the race.
At this point in a campaign, Rasmussen Reports considers the number of people with a strong opinion more significant than the total favorable/unfavorable numbers.
As far as President Obama’s status, 47 percent of Florida voters approve of the president’s job performance, while 53 percent disapprove. This is roughly in line with voter sentiments nationally in Rasmussen Reports’ daily Presidential Tracking Poll.