New poll: A tossup governor's race
By ADAM C. SMITH, Times Political Editor
Published April 20, 2006
Get ready for a very unpredictable governor's race.
Just as many political observers started to wonder if America's biggest battleground state had slipped safely into the Republican column, a new poll shows the race to succeed Gov. Jeb Bush wide open, with the major Democratic and major Republican candidates effectively tied.
The Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday showed Attorney General Charlie Crist in a dead heat for the Republican nomination with Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher. In the Democratic primary, U.S. Rep. Jim Davis leads state Sen. Rod Smith of Alachua, but half of the Democrats are undecided.
Florida Republicans control all of state government and enjoy an enormous fundraising advantage over Democrats, but the April 11-17 survey of 951 registered voters points to national disenchantment with President Bush taking its toll on Florida Republicans. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.
"It's not surprising that given the bad couple of months Republicans have had that some of it might rub off in Florida," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
The poll highlights how unformed the governor's race is with less than five months until the Sept. 5 primary. Crist and Gallagher have been high-profile statewide figures for more than a decade, and yet half of Republicans surveyed did not know enough about them to form an impression.
At least three out of four voters did not know enough about Democrats Smith or Davis to say if they had a favorable of unfavorable view of them. Defining themselves and their rivals will be the focus of the coming months. Crist and Gallagher have far more money to do that - $15-million combined, compared with $4-million for the Democrats.
In the Democratic contest, Davis led Smith 27 to 17 percent, with half of the 383 Democrats surveyed undecided. Crist was favored by 34 percent of the 385 Republicans questioned, while Gallagher was backed by 30 percent with a third still undecided.
Davis was favored by 39 percent to Crist's 37 percent in a hypothetical general election matchup, while Davis and Gallagher were tied at 38 percent each. Crist had 39 percent to 37 percent for Smith if they were opponents, while Gallagher was backed by 41 percent to Smith's 35 percent in that showdown. All matchups were statistical ties.
The Quinnipiac poll was much bleaker for Republicans, and specifically Crist, than a Mason-Dixon survey conducted last month for several Florida newspapers. That poll found Crist leading Gallagher 43 to 27 percent, and either Republican comfortably beating either Democrat.
Given the president's low approval ratings, high gas prices and negative publicity in Iraq, many observers think a ham sandwich could poll competitively with Republicans at this point.
"The environment is starting to solidify and not at all in a good way for us," fretted Geoffrey Becker, former executive director of the state Republican Party. "I literally think the potential of Republicans losing five to maybe eight (state) House seats is a reality."
While most polls in recent months have shown Crist leading Gallagher for the Republican nomination, the Gallagher campaign this month sent key supporters a summary of a massive internal survey it conducted of likely Republican voters. The 3,000-person statewide survey found Crist leading Gallagher by 2 percentage points, 33 to 31 percent.
Adam C. Smith can be reached at 727 893-8241 or firstname.lastname@example.org