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New Poll Points to a Close Race for Governor

An early poll of the potential 2010 gubernatorial race between Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and Attorney General Bill McCollum has an odd inconsistency: Sink is slightly ahead, but McCollum is more popular with voters.

Perhaps most importantly – though expected in a poll 17 months before voters go to the polls: a quarter of the electorate does not know who they'll choose.

In its first poll on the presumed gubernatorial match-up, Connecticut-based Quinnipiac University's polling institute surveyed 1,245 registered voters and found Sink ahead 38 percent to 34 percent. But the same poll also found McCollum's favorability ratings were 15 percent higher Sink's - 40 percent to 25 percent. At 51 percent, McCollum's job approval ratings were also higher than Sink's 39 percent.

Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said the inconsistency between the head-to-head match-up and the candidates' individual numbers could be attributed to the difference in the political parties' popularity in Florida. The poll's question about the governor's race identified Sink as a Democrat and McCollum as a Republican, while the queries about their job performance identified them by their current title

"The Republican brand these days is not in good shape," Brown said during a news conference about the poll. "It's not unreasonable to think that one of the reasons why Ms. Sink is ahead narrowly, but trails in
favorable/unfavorable and job approval, is the party ID label in the question. He and she are both doing about equally well with their party bases, so why is Sink ahead? Because there's a lot more people who think they are Democrats these days."

It makes sense to include party labels in questions about the race now, Brown said, because voters will know the candidates' party affiliation by the time they go to the polls next year.

"That's our standard question and, in fact, a year from November when people vote, one will be listed as the Democratic candidate and one will be listed as the Republican candidate," Brown said.

He added that the Republican brand has not been damaged as much in Florida as it appears to have been in other states. "The Republican Party in Florida is probably in better shape than the Republican Party in a lot of major states, but the GOP brand is down, and that's obviously affecting Mr. McCollum in the horse race," Brown said.

It goes without saying that a poll a year and a half before an election does not mean much to the final outcome of the governor's race, Brown said. He added that McCollum appears to be over-performing the GOP brand.

"McCollum's in good shape," Brown said. "His numbers are very good...he's got pretty good name ID. It's not universal like Gov. Crist, but it's pretty good. Ms. Sink's name ID is just not as high. She's not been around as long.
This starts out as a fairly even race."

Brown also pointed to a question in the poll that asked voters what they thought about Republicans controlling the Governor's Mansion for 12 years, as they will have been by the time the 2010 election comes around. Fifty-percent of the poll's respondents said the Republican rule "has been good for the state," and only 37 percent said the GOP gubernatorial dominance was a bad thing.

"John McCain carried the weight of an unpopular president around his neck during his fall campaign; I don't think that's going to be the case for Bill McCollum," Brown said. "People by and large like what Gov. Crist has done and they liked what Jeb Bush has done."

McCollum was pleased, but not terribly excited considering how early it is.

“I think the poll is fine, I don’t have any problem with it,” McCollum said. “It’s way early on the polling.”

McCollum noted that there have been other polls showing him ahead. “I think I’ll take the one that shows me ahead nine (points),” he said.

In an E-mail to supporters Tuesday morning, McCollum's political director, Greg Ungru, highlighted the same personal approval numbers in the QPoll mentioned by Brown, talking up the attorney general's lead in favorability, job approval ratings and crossover partisan support.

"Approve/Disapprove McCollum beats Sink in every category except Dem and he is only 7 points behind her," Ungru wrote in the E-mail.

Sink campaign spokeswoman Tara Klimek said the CFO's slight lead in the poll would not change her strategy and sought to paint Sink as an underdog against an entrenched veteran.

"We're grateful for the Floridians who are already showing support, but we're not going to take comfort in a poll conducted 17 months before the election," Klimek told the News Service Tuesday. "We're not going to take anything for granted. We know Bill McCollum has been in 14 campaigns and he's been in politics for 30 years. We know it's going to be a tough race, but we think Alex presents a clear choice for giving Florida a fresh start."

The Quinnipiac poll also asked voters about an amendment to the state constitution (SJR 532) that will be on the ballot next year. The ballot question asks voters to approve additional homestead exemption benefits to buyers who have not owned a home in any state within the past eight years. The poll also asked about a plan to eliminate public campaign financing that voters will decide next year. Sixty-one percent of the respondents said reducing property taxes for first-time homeowners was a good idea, but only 39 percent backed the amendment, which would create an additional 25 percent exemption up to $100,000 on homesteaded property

The campaign financing repeal faired better, with 33 percent saying they favored continuing the system that provides public money to candidates for statewide offices who agree to set spending limits. Fifty-six percent said they opposed public campaign financing, well-within range of the 60 percent necessary to change the state constitution.

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