TAMPA – "Turn out the lights, the party's over." Those are the words to the folksy song Dandy Don Meredith used to sing on Monday Night Football when it appeared the game on the field was decided. Of course this usually came late in the game, rarely, if ever, in the third quarter. But if a Public Policy Poll released Tuesday is to be believed, our Don may want to loosen up his voice a bit in the Florida Senate race, early or not.
According to North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling, conservative former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio leads moderate-to-liberal Florida Governor Charlie Crist by a stunning 60-28 in the race for the Republican nomination for the Senate seat Mel Martinez resigned from last summer. The primary is August 24.
This is a huge jump over Rubio's lead just a month ago which was, depending on which poll you believed, between three and 18 points. Public Policy Polling's director of policy polling Tom Jensen conceded that it's unusual for a race to get this kind of movement this far out, particularly as neither candidate is spending much of anything on media ads. But, he said, the current numbers reflect a continuation of the way the race has been heading.
"Crist has been bottoming out with conservatives," Jensen said. "He's been dropping about 10 points a month since last summer and early fall. If you're polling at 20 percent among conservatives in a Republican primary there's no way you can win."
At this rate, Crist will have negative support by the time of the primary.
Jensen says it's a matter of timing, and Crist's timing has been about as off as it could be. In 2007 and 2008, in the pre-recession days of Crist's early governorship, Crist sensed he could woo additional voters to his side by anguishing publicly about global warming and whooping up all manner of costly environmental schemes, including cap and trade and California-style fuel standards. In early 2009, when our rookie president was still popular, Crist attached himself to Obama and his policies. He went so far as to embrace both Obama and his $787 billion "stimulus" slush fund before it was adopted and while other Republicans were pushing more conservative approaches to the recession. He crooned incessantly about "bipartisanship."
In conservative 2010 these policies are toxic. There is, as Jensen put it, "incredible anger among Republican voters about this." And guess who, in Florida, is the recipient of most of that anger? While Crist was cozying up to Democrats, and frolicking with Democratic policies, Rubio was compiling a conservative record in the Florida House. Rubio has campaigned for the Senate nomination on conservative themes such as limited government, fiscal responsibility, personal freedom, and a strong foreign policy. As a result he has the credibility with Florida conservatives that Crist forfeited through his frivolous policies.
As recently as the spring and summer of 2009, Crist had a 30 point lead over Rubio and enjoyed high approval ratings for the job he was doing as governor. But this week's Public Policy poll tells a starkly different story.
In addition to the 60-28 advantage Rubio racks up among the 492 likely Republican primary voters Pubic Policy surveyed, Rubio holds a remarkable 71-17 lead among conservatives. Crist holds a 49-36 advantage with party moderates, but these folks make up less than a third of likely primary voters. Though it was not measured by this poll, Crist likely holds an advantage among liberal Florida Republicans, though no one knows if either of these folks plans to vote in the primary.
The poll finds that almost half, 41 percent, of Florida's likely Republican voters believe the party leadership is too liberal. Among this cohort Rubio enjoys an 83-10 lead. Fully half of the likely voters say Crist himself is too liberal. Rubio is the choice of 90 percent who see Crist this way. Crist picks up five percent with this crowd.
Not only are Republican voters not eager to have Charlie Crist representing them in the U.S. Senate, they aren't even keen anymore on the job Crist is doing as governor. Into last year, Governor Crist enjoyed approval ratings in the sixties and seventies from all voters. Now, according to Public Policy, only 29 percent of likely Republican voters approve of the job Crist is doing as governor while 56 percent disapprove. A majority, 56 percent, say they would like to see Charlie Crist out of public office altogether next year. How's that for wearing out your welcome quickly?
This means that all those political pundits writing pieces on how Crist might decide to bow out of the Senate race and run for re-election as governor will have to look elsewhere for an easy column. If he did this and the election was held this week, the current poll shows he would likely lose. Florida Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Bill McCollum holds a 49 to 35 percent lead over Crist for this office.
But, not to worry pundits. PPP's survey shows Crist is more popular with Democrats now than he is with Republicans. So this may lead to a small bull market in columns suggesting Charlie Crist's political future may be as an independent or even a Democrat. It's becoming increasingly clear Crist has no future as a Republican.
PPP says its survey has a margin of error of +/-4.4 percent.