Poll: GOP primary for US Senate seat in Fla. a tie


Charlie Crist, Jim Greer
Charlie Crist, Jim Greer

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist speaks to fellow Republicans at the state GOP convention Saturday, Jan. 9, 2010 in Orlando, Fla. Florida GOP Chairman Jim Greer listens at left.

Tallahassee Democrat, Bill Cotterell/The Associate
Published: Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 6:58 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 6:58 a.m.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Former Florida legislator Marco Rubio has closed the gap in the race for the state's Republican U.S. Senate nomination and is in a virtual dead heat with Gov. Charlie Crist, according to a poll released Tuesday.

Rubio, a lawyer who served as Speaker of the House, was once considered a long shot against Crist, who has widespread name recognition and a significant fundraising lead. But with Florida's primary seven months away, Rubio was favored by 47 percent compared with 44 percent who preferred Crist — statistically a tie in the Quinnipiac University poll that has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.

The random telephone survey, which included 673 GOP voters, was conducted Jan. 20-24.

"The horse race numbers are not a fluke," said Peter Brown, assistant polling director for Quinnipiac in Connecticut. "Rubio's grassroots campaigning among Republican activists around the state clearly has paid off."

The latest survey marks a stunning turnaround for the 38-year-old Rubio, a conservative who trailed Crist by 31 points in a Quinnipiac survey taken in June.

The governor's 50 percent job approval rating was its lowest since he took office three years ago, according to a broader poll of 1,618 voters that was part of the same telephone survey.

"In order to defeat Rubio, Gov. Crist is going to have to turn around a perception that he is not as much the true-blue, or true-red, conservative as Rubio," Brown said. "That probably means lots of TV commercials attacking Rubio's conservative credentials."

Both Republicans were leading little-known Democratic U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek of Miami in the broader survey. The poll showed Crist was leading Meek by 48 percent to 36 percent and Rubio was ahead of Meek by 44 percent to 35 percent. That poll had a margin of error of 2.4 percentage points.

The U.S. Senate seat is now held by Republican George LeMieux, who was appointed by Crist last summer to fill the rest of former U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez's term. Martinez retired to spend more time with his family in Orlando.

LeMieux, who managed Crist's successful gubernatorial campaign in 2006, agreed not to run for the seat when he accepted the appointment.

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