Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has emerged as the only GOP candidate able to defeat Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., in the 2012 election. A Public Policy Polling survey also found that Bush is the overwhelming favorite among Republican voters to take on Nelson.
In the poll of 1,034 Florida voters taken Dec. 17-20, Bush was the only potential candidate with a lead over Nelson in a hypothetical matchup. The poll had Bush ahead, 49 to 44 percent, while all other potential challengers trailed Nelson. The poll showed that Rep. Connie Mack IV trailed 44 to 36 percent; former Sen. George LeMieux, 47 to 36 percent; state Senate President Mike Haridopolos, 44 to 32 percent; and state Rep. Adam Hasner, 46 to 30 percent.
Dean Debnam, president of Public Policy Polling, said, “Right now, it appears unlikely candidate Jeb Bush is the only Republican who could defeat Bill Nelson. But Nelson’s job performance reviews are not stellar, and Marco Rubio showed this year that a candidate can come out of nowhere to beat the odds.”
The director of the Democratic-leaning polling firm, Tom Jensen, wrote on his blog that a poll of 400 Republican primary voters taken at the same time found that 72 percent of Republicans wanted Bush as their candidate.
“With Bush in the equation none of the other options given get any higher than 6 percent — that's for perennial candidate Bill McCollum — and once you get past McCollum no one else even tops 3 percent,” Jensen wrote.
“Bush's relatively liberal stance for a Republican on immigration isn't giving him any trouble at least yet. The desire for him to be the nominee is even stronger with self-identified conservatives at 77 percent than it is with moderates at 65 percent.”
The poll showed that former President George W. Bush’s brother garnered the support of both conservative and moderate GOP members.
With Bush out of the picture, primary voters lined up behind Mack, 15 percent; McCollum, 14 percent; LeMieux, 11 percent; Lt. Gov.-elect Jennifer Carroll, 10 percent; Haridopolos, 9 percent; Rep. Vern Buchanan, 7 percent; and Hasner, 3 percent.
Jensen wrote that one takeaway from the polling is that “there’s probably nobody else other than Bush who could get into the race and start with an overwhelming lead in the primary.”
“The other big takeaway is the continued incredible weakness of LeMieux in pretty much all polling,” he said. “His head start as a senator for the last year and change has done little to familiarize and endear himself with Florida voters.”
LeMieux was appointed to the seat in 2009 by Gov. Charlie Crist under the condition that he not run for the seat this year. Marco Rubio won the seat in November, defeating Crist, who ran as an independent, and Democrat Kendrick Meek.
Jensen said that, in the general election, LeMieux polls as the “third choice of Republican voters in the state amongst a pretty uninspiring group of choices. He may yet prove to be a strong candidate but if his tenure so far has given him any sort of early advantage it's only on fundraising.”
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