Insiders Bounce Back: Meek and McCollum Lead in Newly Released Poll
Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill McCollum and Democratic U.S. Senate hopeful Kendrick Meek, two longtime Florida politicians, could be on their way to surviving tougher-than-expected primaries with opponents who have spent millions of dollars burnishing their own, outsider images, a poll Wednesday shows.
The Quinnipiac University survey released Wednesday showed both men surging to leads over their largely self-financed opponents. McCollum led former Columbia Healthcare/HCA CEO Rick Scott by a 44 percent to 35 percent margin, after having trailed Scott by nine points just three weeks ago. Meek, who trailed real estate mogul Jeff Greene by 10 points at the end of July, is now leading by 35 percent to 28 percent.
Quinnipiac’s findings were the latest in a series of public polls showing momentum shifting back to establishment-backed candidates as the Aug. 24 primary closes in. It shows that despite the national trend, being an outsider may not be enough to get either upstart candidate over the finish line next week, Quinnipiac University Polling Institute assistant director Peter Brown said.
“Essentially, the establishment still lives in Florida politics,” he said.
McCollum and Meek have both leaned heavily on endorsements from popular members of their parties in the final weeks of the primaries, with the attorney general campaigning with former Gov. Jeb Bush and Meek stumping with former President Bill Clinton. That has played a big role in their turnarounds, Brown said.
“What’s happened is that the party elders on both sides have weighed in and they obviously have clout with members of their own parties,” he said.
McCollum and Meek have also begun countering the ubiquitous television commercials from Scott and Greene, who have each spent millions of their own money since entering the race, with tough ads of their own. Brown said McCollum and Meek’s attempts to raise doubts about Scott and Greene’s past appears to have worked.
“McCollum has been able to convince voters that not just that he’s the better candidate, but that experience matters,” Brown said. “Meek has been very good at pounding home two messages: number one, the guy used to be a Republican – he ran for office as one. That’s not very helpful in a Democratic primary. Number two, he became a billionaire betting that you would default on your mortgage. Those are very salient messages.”
In the face of McCollum’s advertising, Scott’s unfavorability ratings climbed from 26 percent in a July 29 Quinnipiac survey to 33 percent this week. Meek’s tough-edged advertising against Greene helped drive his opponent’s negative rating from 18 percent to 36 percent among voters.
Also looming as a problem for Scott with the primary less than a week away are signs that not as many voters say they want a first-time candidate as governor as Quinnipiac’s earlier survey showed. Then, 54 percent opted for an outsider. Now, 42 percent do. A similar trouble spot for Greene is that twice as many voters who say they support him acknowledge they might change their mind compared with Meek backers. While 52 percent of Greene voters say they could switch – only 26 percent of Meek supporters said they could be persuaded to turn.
The Quinnipiac poll was conducted from Aug. 11-16. Among Republicans, 807 likely primary voters were surveyed with the findings containing a margin-of-error of plus-or-minus 3.5 percentage points. Among Democrats, 814 likely primary voters were contacted – with the poll’s error margin 3.4 percentage points.
While McCollum and Meek may be benefitting from momentum swinging their way, Brown said the race remains volatile. Early voting in Florida began Aug. 9, so a portion of the primary tally is already in – and will be unaffected by any last advertising blitz.
Pushing back against signs his lead was withering, the Scott campaign, which has spent close to $40 million on TV advertising, said a separate Sunshine State News poll released Wednesday that showed him still holding a narrow edge on McCollum. The campaign suggested polls like the Quinnipiac survey were undersampling the amount of Tea Party voters who may turn out next week, though spokeswoman Jen Baker acknowledged “the race is tightening.”
“Just like the GOP establishment in states like Kentucky and Colorado underestimated the power of the conservative outsider, much of the Florida establishment is also underestimating voter turnout,” she said in a statement.
McCollum spokeswoman Kristy Campbell disagreed, saying the poll and a recent Mason-Dixon survey showing McCollum ahead mirrored the campaign’s own numbers.
“The polling we’re seeing now…reflects our internal polling and what we’re hearing in ground from Floridians who have early voted or who are getting ready to vote on Aug. 24,” she told the News Service. “We’re seeing a surge in momentum for Bill McCollum’s candidacy because he has laid out a positive agenda for our state…”
On the Democratic side, Meek called the poll “an encouraging sign for my campaign,” saying in a statement “all across the state, Floridians are standing up in support of the Real Democrat in this race.”
Greene’s campaign downplayed Wednesday’s findings.
“We’ve seen polls come out almost on a daily basis,” said Greene spokesman Luiz Vizcaino. “Some have us up, some have us in a statistical tie and some have us trailing the other candidate. What it does show is that it is a very tight race…that every vote is going to count and…it’s about getting our voters to the polls.”