Poll Shows Rubio Closing on Crist, But Losing to Meek
A new Quinnipiac University poll showed Marco Rubio nearly cutting Gov. Charlie Crist’s lead in the GOP primary in the U.S. Senate in half, but in the same survey, the former House Speaker narrowly loses to likely Democratic nominee Kendrick Meek.
Republican respondents gave Crist a 50-35 lead in the Senate primary, closing the 29 point spread the poll found in August to a 15-point margin. But the same poll found Crist handily leading Meek 51-31, who Rubio trailed 36-33, underscoring the different electorates the candidates will face in the closed Republican primary and the November general election.
November match-ups notwithstanding however, Quinnipiac polling director Peter Brown said the numbers provided the latest evidence the Crist-Rubio race could be tighter than earlier polling and fundraising numbers suggested.
“Obviously (Rubio’s) message, which is aimed at party conservatives, is having an effect,” Brown said during a news conference announcing the results. “Clearly, Marco Rubio’s strategy of going to Republican events and talking about his conservative views is having an effect.”
Rubio has run a hard line conservative campaign thus far, reminding voters constantly of Crist’s support for President Barack Obama’s federal economic stimulus, which remains anathema to many on the political right.
Barnstorming the circuit of local Republican clubs that Crist has ignored, Rubio has managed to crush the governor in several straw polls. The events, however, have all been very small. But the charismatic Cuban-American has also touted endorsements from national conservative leaders and publications and he silenced critics of his fundraising prowess by raising about $1 million in the third quarter this year, a sharp increase from the $350,000 he reported for his mid-year total.
The Quinnipiac poll provides the latest evidence of momentum appearing to gather for Rubio, but Brown pointed out that the survey was still not all bad news for Crist.
“It’s worth underlining that half of Republicans in Florida don’t know enough about Marco Rubio to have an opinion of him,” Brown said. “Gov. Crist’s numbers are not down very much. He’s down 5 points in the horse race, 1 or 2 in the favorable-unfavorable. That’s not substantial at all. What has changed is that Rubio’s travel around the state is having an impact on Republican activists; these are the people who’ll vote in primaries. Mr. Rubio’s been able to hone his message on the people who can vote.”
Brown added that the tightening race meant Gov. Crist would likely have to abandon his above-the-fray strategy of not responding to criticism from Rubio.
“Crist has a decision to make,” Brown said. “He’s obviously ignored Rubio until now. Does he engage him? Does he go after him either through television ads or surrogates or himself?”
Crist has already made one strategic change, tapping his chief of staff Eric Eikenberg to run his Senate campaign. For his part, Rubio’s campaign released a Web ad Wednesday morning -- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rb3fDoE4vs8 -- touting headlines detailing his newfound momentum in the race.
However, as with any poll taken 10 months before votes are cast, Brown stressed that “we have a long, long way to go,” and cautioned that the dynamics of the race would likely change again as they had in the current survey.
“The thing that will probably determine this race is that half of Republicans don’t yet have an opinion about Marco Rubio,” Brown said. “He’s a blank slate to half of the voters in the primary. One assumes the next 10 months will be about filling in that blank slate. Rubio will try to fill it in in a positive manner and it’s a pretty fair bet that Gov. Crist and his campaign will do everything they can to fill in those blanks about Rubio in a negative way.”
In the governor’s race, the Quinnipiac poll showed Republican Bill McCollum continuing to hold a slight lead on Democrat Alex Sink. McCollum garnered 36 to Sink's 32 percent in the gubernatorial poll. The result was largely unchanged from Quinnipiac’s last survey of Florida, which showed McCollum leading Sink 38 - 34 percent.
“The governor’s race is close,” Brown said. “McCollum’s ahead; he was ahead the latest time Quinnipiac polled in August and he’s still ahead, by about the same margin.”
The poll showed McCollum leading 43-7 in a hypothetical Republican primary with Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, who has publicly toyed with running against the presumed frontrunner.