A record-setting 361,615 Florida voters participated in early voting through Sunday, though election officials cautioned that the number may reflect the convenience of voting before Election Day, not a higher-than-expected overall turnout.
Compared to the 2006 primary, when two primary battles for governor topped the ballot, early voting is up 40 percent. Tuesday’s primary features a hotly contested and wildly expensive Republican contest for governor between corporate executive Rick Scott and Attorney General Bill McCollum, and an equally brutal Democratic Senate race between U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek and real estate investor Jeff Greene.
The trend toward early voting could affect the election’s outcome. Scott, who heavily pushed supporters toward early and absentee voting, is hoping voters chose him before the latest round of attacks from McCollum. Scott’s campaign predicts a whopping 41 percent Republican turnout.
“People are showing up,” said Scott, a health care executive who has never run for office before. “People care about this race because they want change. . . So it’s a great sign for me.”
In the last mid-term, the 2006 primary election, only about 20 percent of the voters cast ballots. Another low turnout election, with only the most reliable Republican and Democratic voters going to the polls, would appear to favor veteran politicians like McCollum and Meek.
“The voters are going to go out, and I trust their judgment,” McCollum said. “I always have trusted that, and I believe they are going to make the decision based upon the fact that I have a record that they can see.”
A Quinnipiac University survey released Monday showed McCollum’s lead narrowing to 39-35 percent against Scott. The same poll shows that Meek has surged to a 39-29 percent lead over Greene among likely Democratic voters.
But the poll found that 22 percent of Republicans and 28 percent of Democrats were still on the fence.
If the large chunk of undecided voters show up on Tuesday, “any verdict is possible,” said Quinnipiac pollster Peter A. Brown.
The poll of 771 Republican voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. The survey of 757 Democratic likely primary voters has a 3.6 percent margin of error.
In a sign of the tough-to-call nature of the primary, another survey from Public Policy Polling showed Scott actually led McCollum by 7 percentage points.
Reflecting the fervent, frenetic push by the candidates on the day before the election, McCollum and Scott ran into each other at the Tampa airport on Monday. Scott, on his way to West Palm Beach, walked by McCollum without a word. McCollum, flying to Orlando, didn’t make eye contact.
Meek and Greene both stumped in Tampa and Orlando but managed to avoid crossing paths. Meek is planning to hit a Miami bus terminal and union hall before dawn Tuesday.
Outgunned on television by his billionaire rival, Meek sought some free publicity in interviews with two disparate audiences, going to the set of Tampa Bay shock jock Bubba ‘‘The Love Sponge’’ Clem and doing a more formal live satellite interview with MSNBC’s Chuck Todd.
Meek hit Greene over his making hundreds of millions of dollars through credit default swaps, a complex financial investment that allowed Greene to bet against risky mortgages bundled into bonds.
“You don’t put your dollars against Floridians and then turn around and use those same dollars and say hey I’m going to be for you,” Meek said.
As Meek was leaving Tampa to head to Orlando, Jeff Greene was just flying in. In a visit to a bakery, he dismissed a question from reporters that he wasn’t campaigning hard enough, noting that he was out shaking hands at his mothers’ West Palm Beach retirement condominium until 10:30 p.m. Sunday.
“We have some very important issues facing Florida today and I’m telling you if the people of Florida give me the chance . . . I will fight,” Greene said. “I will create
jobs and get results like they’ve never seen before.”
McCollum began the last day of the primary campaign at the Floridian restaurant in Fort Lauderdale before flying across the state for a grass-roots event at Five Guys, a burger joint. As a steady midday rain fell, the choice of the restaurant was apt: Only about five guys were there to root for McCollum, along with a handful of women.
McCollum said Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, will be at his hotel Tuesday night near Orlando. If McCollum wins, Barbour is slated to headline a Republican Party “Victory Committee’’ fund-raising dinner Wednesday night in Orlando.
Scott pitched himself as the self-made businessman fighting the political establishment, which has poured about $4.8 million into two new committees McCollum established in June.
“The thing that surprised me about this race is how much the special interests are involved, Scott said.
He also stepped up his criticism of the Republican leadership, responding to an e-mail Sunday from state party chairman John Thrasher who said he “orchestrated a multifaceted campaign of misinformation in an effort to mislead Florida voters.” Scott is running televised and print ads that accuse McCollum of covering up wrongdoing by former state party chairman Jim Greer.
“Clearly, he’s biased, Scott said of Thrasher. “They didn’t want to have a primary.”