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Governor’s Race Tightens, Drilling Remains Popular

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink has closed Republican Attorney General Bill McCollum’s lead in the race to replace Gov. Charlie Crist, according to a poll released Monday that had shown Sink trailing McCollum by 10 percent earlier this year.

The poll, by Connecticut-based Quinnipiac University, showed Sink now trailing McCollum 40 percent to 36 percent. The university's last poll on the race, conducted Jan. 20-24, had McCollum leading 41-31 percent.

The turnaround could be tied in part to McCollum’s lawsuit against the federal government over the new national health care law, Quinnipiac Polling Director Peter Brown said.

“While McCollum’s approval rating is better than Sink’s or Crist’s, his threatened lawsuit to void the new federal health care law doesn’t sit well with voters, including independents, historically the key voting group,” Brown said in a statement accompanying the poll results. “Florida voters mostly disapprove of the health care plan 48 – 44 percent, but trying to stop it in court is not a political winner for McCollum, at least at this point.”

McCollum lead several states in filing suit to block the plan before the requirement that Americans purchase health insurance begins in 2014. But the Quinnipiac poll found that 54 percent said it was “bad idea” for McCollum to sue over the plan, and 38 percent said it made them less likely to vote for McCollum for governor.

That has given Sink an opening that seemed to be slipping away a few months ago as several polls, including Quinnipiac, showed McCollum widening his lead to double digits. Amid reports her campaign had grown stagnant, Sink shook up her campaign staff, replacing campaign manager Paul Dunn with former Shellie Levin from EMILY's List.

“Attorney General Bill McCollum clings to a slim lead over CFO Alex Sink in the governor’s race, a lead he has held since last August,” Brown said. “He is better known than she and voters grade him somewhat better for the job he is doing. While most would rather be in his shoes, on the up side of a close race, November is a long way off.”

Potentially problematic for Sink, however, is that despite the fact that she has been running for governor for almost a year, most voters – 61 percent – said they “haven’t heard enough about” Sink to have an opinion. That could pose as many problems as it creates opportunities for the CFO as the campaign heats up on television, Brown said.

“Ms. Sink’s low voter recognition is a double-edged sword: She has an opportunity to introduce herself to a majority of the electorate, while McCollum has the chance to define her in an unflattering way,” he said. “The next governor is the one who is most successful in selling his or her version.”

There was good news in the poll Republican primary for McCollum. He leads state Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, 56 percent to 7 percent. Eighty-five percent of the poll’s 1,250 respondents said they did not know enough of Dockery to form an opinion.

The poll also found that President Barack Obama’s approval rating in Florida had increased from 45 percent in January to 50 percent. Obama’s recent proposal to allow more drilling for oil was supported by 66 percent of the poll’s respondents, with 64 percent saying they generally supported more drilling in Florida waters.

That idea was favored by more Republicans – 79 percents – than Democrats – 53 percent.

A proposal that would have allowed drilling as close as three miles off the Florida Gulf coast appears to have run out of gas this year. House Speaker-designate Dean Cannon, who has pushed the proposal, acknowledged late last week that the Senate was balking at the idea.

“Sometimes big ideas take time,” Cannon, R-Winter Park, told reporters after his Policy Council on Strategic and Economic Planning approved sending a report to House Speaker Larry Cretul, R-Ocala, on the proposal.

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