Rubio Leads New Poll, Crist Raises $2 Million in Senate Race
Former House Speaker Marco Rubio inched ahead of Gov. Charlie Crist in their race for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination, according to a poll released Tuesday that had shown the governor leading by 15 points as recently as October.
In the latest poll from Connecticut-based Quinnipiac University, conducted Jan. 20-24, Rubio was ahead of Crist 47-44 percent. The spread was within the poll’s 3.8 percent margin of error, representing a statistical tie. But it is also a stunning reversal from the university's last poll in October, which showed Crist leading Rubio 50-35 percent among registered Republicans.
Crist’s campaign quickly moved to step on any momentum Rubio might gather from the poll, announcing Tuesday that the governor had raised another $2 million in the fourth quarter of 2009 and had a whopping $7.5 million on hand for the campaign.
“We have received phenomenal and broad support from Florida voters,” Crist Campaign Manager Eric Eikenberg said in a statement released shortly after Quinnipiac completed their press conference about the poll. “We continue to get unwavering fundraising donations as our supporters help us spread Gov. Crist’s positive message of less government, low taxes, and a market based approach to health care.”
However, further illustrating the turnaround in momentum in the Senate race, the same poll showed Crist leading by 29 points in August, surprising even Quinnipiac polling director Peter Brown.
“Who would have thunk it?” Brown said in a statement accompanying the poll results. “A former state lawmaker virtually unknown outside of his South Florida home whose challenge to an exceedingly popular sitting governor for a U.S. Senate nomination had many insiders scratching their heads. He enters the race 31 points behind and seven months later sneaks into the lead.”
Brown added quickly that “the horse race numbers are not a fluke,” pointing to the trend of the race closing and Crist’s well-documented problems with the conservative voters that form the Republican Party’s base.
“Rubio also tops Crist on a number of other measurements from registered Republicans, who are the only folks who can vote in the primary,” Brown said. “Rubio’s grassroots campaigning among Republican activists around the state clearly has paid off.”
National events are at play as well, Brown said, noting that officeholders across the country are struggling to gain traction in what is shaping up to be an anti-incumbent year.
“Florida is not an island,” he said during a Tallahassee news conference. “There’s a lot going on around the country. It’s not good to be the incumbent and Charlie Crist is the virtual incumbent in this race. Mr. Rubio has caught the (populist) wave.”
Brown also pointed to Rubio’s extensive grassroots campaigning, saying “obviously Marco Rubio’s trips to visit Republican activists have born fruit.”
By contrast, Crist has been criticized in some quarters for focusing more last year on raising money out-of-state than campaigning.
The poll found Crist and Rubio both leading likely Democratic nominee Kendrick Meek, 48-36 percent and 44-35 percent respectively.
Crist brushed off the findings about his now close primary race, blaming the state’s economic woes.
“You know these are tough times,” he told reporters before Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting. “And you know for any leader it’s challenging to lead in difficult times, but we're going to keep doing it and keep fighting for the people and stay focused on that task. And what ever it takes to turn around this economy, that's what we're going to do.”
Crist pivoted quickly to his upcoming state budget proposal, which is expected to be announced this week, saying that governing effectively this spring was more important than polls seven months before voters cast ballots in the primary.
“I'm going to govern and my first responsibility is to be the governor of the state of Florida, work hard for the people every single day, to make sure we're reducing the size of government, that we're living within our means, that we propose a budget that makes sense and that's what I'm focused on,” he said.
But when he was asked if the new poll numbers sent him a message about his campaign, which has stepped up his engagement with Rubio in the last few months, Crist demurred.
“I don't know if it does or doesn't,” he said. “It's not really my concern. My concern is trying to do the work of the people and make sure we continue to stay focused on that.”
Rubio’s campaign, which did not respond immediately to requests from comment, circulated the results of the poll in an E-mail to supporters and on its Twitter page.