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It's Crist in a Three-Way Race for Senate

By James Call

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wfsu/local-wfsu-920046.mp3

Tallahassee, FL – An August survey of voters indicates that Governor Charlie Crist, running with no party affiliation for the U.S. Senate, could be the winner in November. A Quinnipiac poll of Florida voters gives Crist a seven point lead over Republican Marco Rubio, with either of the two Democratic candidates trailing by double digits. James Call reports it appears a substantial number of Democratic voters say they support Crist.

Peter Brown is the assistant director of Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
"Among Democrats, his job approval rating is 68/24; that is really phenomenal, 68/24 among Democrats. That's why he's doing so well among Democrats in the Primary."

Although he lacks the support of any organized political party, Charlie Crist gets more support from self-described Democratic voters than either of the two Democratic candidates. Congressman Kendrick Meek has had former President Bill Clinton and the current President campaigning for him. Jeff Greene has spent about $10-million promoting his name. But if the election were held today, according to Quinnipiac, 51-percent of registered Democrats said they would vote for Charlie Crist.

"I am quite confident that if Charlie Crist gets 40-plus percent of the Democratic vote in November, he is likely to be the next U.S. Senator from Florida. And that's the challenge to the eventual Democratic nominee, to get back the lion share of his voting. So Rubio and the Democratic nominee, whether it be Meek or Greene, they don't get a choice. They've got to try to knock Crist's numbers down."

Crist resigned from the Republican Party in April. At the time, polls indicated he could lose the GOP primary to Marco Rubio. The race was a statistical dead heat. Now it appears that Crist has assembled a coalition that could be difficult for his opponents to splinter. It's built with 50-percent of the independent vote, 45-percent of the Democrats and 22-percent of the Republicans. His high favorable ratings and no party affiliation is creating problems for not only the Democratic candidates but also for political analysts. Here's Bob, a Boca Raton caller to NPR's "Talk of the Nation."

"I wholeheartedly concur about what was said about Crist. Life-long Democrat, never voted for a Republican in my life, I'm going to vote for Crist. My dilemma is who do I vote for in the Democratic primary to make sure they lose against Crist?"

Susan MacManus is an expert on Florida politics. She is a professor of public administration and political science at the University of South Florida. She suggests Crist's Democratic support is soft. She expects starting Wednesday, when the fall campaign begins, Crist will start losing support.

"Once the nominee is selected, I think you'll see a number of Florida Democrats coming back home because right now, Governor Crist, who's running as an independent, is getting more votes from Democrats than these two candidates (Meek and Greene)."

MacManus thinks that will change a bit, even though Governor Crist is counting on strong Democratic support to win a three-person race. However, Brown says peeling support away from Crist will be a tricky task. One has to find a way to criticize Crist without sending his support to the third candidate.

"On Rubio's side, how do you go about going after Crist in a way that doesn't help Meek?...In a three way race, it is much more complicated and much more difficult to predict."

Quinnipiac surveyed 1,096 voters August 11th through 16th. The poll has a margin of error of three percentage points. Among all voters, Crist leads Republican Rubio 39 to 32-percent and has more than twice the support of either Greene or Meek, both Democrats.