Quinnipiac: Crist Leads in Senate Race as an Independent
But if the governor ran as an independent, he would win 32 percent to Rubio’s 30 percent and Democrat Kendrick Meek’s 24 percent, the poll found.
The poll, from Connecticut-based Quinnipiac University, which once showed Crist leading Rubio by a margin similar to his current deficit, was the first major public poll to consider how Crist would fare if he were to leave the Republican primary.
Rubio’s campaign did not comment directly on the poll, but he continued to stoke the independent rumors. Crist has tried to tamp down the rumors, though offered a chance to deny that he’s contemplating an independent run this week, the governor didn’t. The front page of Rubio’s campaign Website on Thursday featured a picture of Crist and Obama under a headline “Will Charlie Abandon the GOP Again?”
Crist’s campaign has flatly denied that he would leave the Republican primary as recently as early April. But the numbers, coupled with a likely veto of a controversial education bill, has fueled speculation he might bolt the party.
Now, with his poll numbers plummeting, Quinnipiac Polling Director Peter Brown said Crist might not have a choice.
“Obviously at this point, the governor’s chances of being a U.S. Senator at this point appear to be a lot better if he runs as an independent candidate than if he runs in the U.S. Senate primary on the Republican side,” Brown said at a Tallahassee news conference.
The Crist-Rubio primary has been closely watched by national political observers and as news of the Quinnipiac Poll spread Thursday, they agreed.
“Crist seems to have three options with the filing deadline coming up at the end of this month -- he stays in the GOP primary and tries to erase Rubio’s double-digit lead; he runs as an independent; or he drops out of the race altogether,” MSNBC political analyst Mark Murray wrote on the network’s “First Read” blog.
Florida political strategists also said Crist’s choices are limited. Democratic strategist Steve Schale, who is widely credited with helping President Barack Obama win Florida, said last week that given the higher number of registered Democrats than Republicans in the state, Crist would have to win 60 percent of independent voters and 25 percent of Republicans and Democrats to win 31 percent of the vote.
But the Quinnipiac poll showed the numbers were even tougher for Crist in the GOP primary, Schale said Thursday.
“I believe their poll confirms the belief that a run up the middle is very tough for the governor,” Schale said in an E-mail. “That being said, I also think it is his only shot.”
Brown said Crist’s diminished standing in the primary mirrors Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, who was defeated in 2006 in that state’s Democratic primary – in large part due to charges of being too close to the opposition party in power in Washington and its president. Lieberman rebounded quickly though and went on to win re-election as an independent candidate.
But unlike Lieberman, Crist does not have the luxury of waiting until the primary votes are cast. Florida election law requires Crist to decide if he wants to run in the Republican primary or as an independent by April 30.
Murray added that Lieberman was helped in his three-way race by winning moderate Republicans who voted for him because they thought it was unlikely Connecticut would elect their nominee, as well as moderates in his own party. Democrats this year, on the other hand, sense an opportunity for their presumptive nominee Kendrick Meek.
“Remember that Joe Lieberman won his 2006 three-way because Republicans voted for him overwhelmingly - and national Republicans made it clear it was OK to do that, and they did not embrace the actual GOP nominee,” Murray wrote. “But do you think Florida Democrats will do the same for Crist?”
The Quinnipiac poll found Crist leading Meek in a hypothetical head-to-head general election matchup 48 percent to 34 percent, while Meek was in striking distance in a three-way race and trailed Rubio by a smaller 42 percent to 38 percent margin.