TAMPA — Former Gov. Charlie Crist maintains a lead over Gov. Rick Scott in the 2014 governor’s race, but it has narrowed substantially over the last several months and his image with voters has deteriorated, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll.
That suggests Crist didn’t get much of a public image boost from his formal announcement three weeks ago of his long-expected candidacy — and that attacks by Scott and Republicans are having some effect.
Scott, meantime, also got less-than-stellar reviews from the poll. His job approval ratings, never healthy, declined slightly, while his personal favorability ratings remained essentially unchanged.
The poll comes just as U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who’s been declining for months to rule out the possibility that he’ll enter the race, appeared to crack the door a bit further open.
Nelson told a reporter this week he might run for governor if it starts looking like the Democratic nominee, presumably Crist, would lose to Scott.
Some Democrats speculated the numbers in the new poll are the kind of results that eventually could draw Nelson into the race, but Nelson backers said they don’t believe he’ll make a decision based on any one poll conducted this early — more than 11 months before the Nov. 4, 2014 election.
Also in the poll:
Respondents strongly favored a measure legalizing medical use of marijuana, which supporters are trying to put on the 2014 ballot as a state consitutional amendment.
By a 60-34 percent majority, they supported Florida law saying a person who feels threatened may use deadly force to fight back even if he could safely retreat instead, a description of Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law.
Democratic respondents gave Crist an overwhelming margin, 60-12 percent, over former state Sen. Nan Rich, who’s also seeking the Democratic nomination for governor. Scott won a matchup with Rich among all voters 43-35 percent.
The poll didn’t include a Scott-Nelson matchup.
Crist led Scott by seven points, 47-40 percent. That’s down from a 10-point lead in the same poll in June, and a 16-point lead in March.
He led largely by virtue of a big gender gap, with women favoring him 50-34 percent while men narrowly back Scott. 46-43 percent.
Asked whether they have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Crist, respondents split almost evenly, 41 percent favorable to 39 percent unfavorable — a decline from his 48-31 percent favorable rating in June.
Scott got a negative rating of 42 percent approval to 47 percent disapproval of his performance in office, compared to a 43-44 percent score June 18, his best ever in a Quinnipiac poll.
Scott’s personal favorability was almost unchanged from June, at 39 percent favorable to 42 percent unfavorable.
Asked about the poll results, state GOP Chairman Lenny Curry only repeated campaign talking points.
“While Charlie Crist supports policies like Obamacare that harm our economy,” Curry said, “Rick Scott has implemented policies that have put Florida ahead of the rest of the nation when it comes to job creation.”
Crist political strategist Steve Schale, in response, noted the poll’s negative findings on Scott — the losing matchup with Crist, his negative job approval rating and the 37 percent “yes” to 53 percent “no” answers on whether the respondents want Scott re-elected,
That, he said, is “a very vulnerable place to be” for Scott.
Nelson has said for months he has “no intentionof running for governor, while at the same time sharply criticizing Scott’s performance and stopping short of saying he won’t change his mind.
He reportedly went further Tuesday, telling a reporter from the news webiste Politico he would consider getting in the race if Crist “gets in trouble.” Asked what he meant by “trouble,” Nelson said, “That’s in the eye of the the beholder.”
A Nelson spokesman declined to clarify Nelson’s comments, saying only that there was “Nothing new to report.”
St. Petersburg-based Democratic political consultant Barry Edwards said Nelson “knows he has been able to get more crossover votes than this,” meaning more support from Republicans and independents than the poll shows for Crist.
Ormond Beach insurance executive Charlie Lydecker, long a major financial backer of Nelson, said he doesn’t believe Nelson will make a decision based on one poll done this soon.
“My impression is he’ll know it when he sees it – there’s a difference between (Crist) muddling along and getting hit by a Mack truck,” he said.
Respondents in the poll said they favor “allowing adults in Florida to legally use marijuana for medical purposes if their doctor prescribes it” by 82-16 percent. They also said by a margin of 48-46 percent they favor allowing adults to possess small amounts for personal use.
The medical marijuana measure would need a 60 percent vote in its favor to pass if it goes on the 2014 ballot.
Opponents plan to portray the measure as opening the door to widespread recreational use of marijuana, while backers say it would provide only for tightly controlled medical use.
The Nov. 12-17 poll included 1,646 registered voters for an error margin of 2.4 percentage points. The error margin would be larger for results from portions of the sample such as gender or partisan breakdowns.