Gov. Crist's once formidable lead wiped out by Rubio
Published: Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 10:42 p.m.
Tallahassee - Gov. Charlie Crist's once formidable lead in the U.S. Senate race has evaporated with the continued rise of former House Speaker Marco Rubio in the Republican primary, a new poll shows.
The poll, from Quinnipiac University, gave Rubio a 47-44 percent lead among Republican voters - a statistical tie but a dramatic shift from polls last year that gave Crist a lead of 30-plus points.
Either Crist or Rubio would beat U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Miami, the leading Democratic Senate candidate, in the general election, the poll showed.
Rubio has gained on Crist by questioning the governor's conservative credentials, including attacking him for appearing with President Barack Obama last year in Fort Myers.
Despite the political fallout from his last joint appearance, Crist said Tuesday that he might join Obama on Thursday at a town hall meeting in Tampa where the president may announce Florida as one of the recipients of federal funding for a high-speed rail system.
"If we can work it out logistically, I'll be with him," Crist said.
Peter Brown, a Quinnipiac pollster, said Rubio has surged in the survey - where he once trailed Crist by a 54-23 percent margin - because his "grassroots campaigning among Republican activists around the state clearly has paid off."
Brown also said Crist may be feeling the wave of "anti-incumbency" among voters.
"It is a reasonable assumption that the anger towards incumbents we are seeing around the country has hurt the governor, who is the virtual incumbent in this race," Brown said.
The poll also showed Rubio's message that he is the more conservative candidate may be resonating among GOP voters, with those voters saying Rubio is "more consistently conservative" than Crist by a 48-34 percent margin.
Crist brushed aside the poll results, saying he would focus on his job.
"My first responsibility is to be the governor of the state of Florida, to work hard for the people every single day," Crist said.
Crist said the "tough economy" may be a factor.
"You know, these are tough times. And you know, for any leader, it's challenging to lead in difficult times, but we're going to keep doing it and keep fighting for the people," Crist said. "Whatever it takes to turn around this economy that's what we're going to be focused on."
Alex Burgos, a spokesman for Rubio's campaign, said the former House speaker's strategy of holding Crist "accountable for his record on taxes, spending and support for Barack Obama's failed policies" has had an impact in the race.
But Burgos said Rubio's campaign, while "encouraged" by the poll's results, expects the governor to use his fundraising advantage "to distort his record and Marco Rubio's."
One beneficiary of what has become a life-and-death political struggle in the Republican primary could be Meek, the Democratic frontrunner.
The Quinnipiac poll showed Crist beating Meek by a 48-36 percent margin and Rubio beating him by 44-35 percent. But it also showed that 72 percent of the voters don't know enough about Meek to have an opinion, giving him the opportunity to build that case.
Meanwhile, Crist reported his fundraising continues at a strong pace - collecting more than $2 million in the last three months of 2009.
His campaign says he has $7.5 million in "cash on hand" for the campaign.
Rubio, though, had his strongest fundraising quarter, taking in $1.75 million. His available cash - taking into account money already spent - would be $2 million, according to the campaign.
Meek raised $1.2 million for a total of $4.5 million for his campaign.
The Quinnipiac poll was conducted from Jan. 20-24 and surveyed 1,618 Florida voters, including 673 Republicans. The overall poll had a margin of error of 2.4 percent and a 3.8 percent margin of error among GOP voters.
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