The insiders are back in the good graces of voters.
Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum has seized a 9 percentage point lead in the Republican governor's race, while U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek holds a 7-point lead in the Democratic race for U.S. Senate, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll of likely Florida voters.
Both longtime politicians were trailing their opponents -- who are both millionaire political newcomers -- by double digits in the last Quinnipiac University poll July 29.
The wildly fluctuating poll numbers are another sign of the volatility of an anything-can-happen election year, said pollster Peter A. Brown.
``Although this is clearly the year of the outsider, the reverse of that may be in the offing in Florida,'' Brown said.
McCollum's ability to surge ahead of Rick Scott and Meek's lead over Jeff Greene might also shows that campaigns in Florida aren't just a matter of running television ads -- a crucial step in reaching voters in a state as large and diverse as Florida.
Both McCollum and Meek have deep roots in the Republican and Democratic parties, respectively. Scott and Greene don't.
Also, McCollum and Meek have classic campaigns that rely on teams of longtime supporters and unpaid volunteer foot soldiers to call voters and knock on doors in the summer heat. Scott and Greene, meantime, have enough cash to bury their opponents on television and hire legions of supporters, but it might not be enough in a low turnout election in which the diehards dictate the course of the election.
The primary election is Aug. 24. Early and absentee-voting has been underway for more than a week already -- something that's likely given Scott and Greene and edge so far as their opponents cranked up their ground games to turn out the vote.
Right now, the new poll shows, about 19 percent of Republican voters are undecided, and about a third of voters who have chosen a candidate say they might change their mind. Democratic voters are more conflicted. Almost 30 percent are undecided and 39 percent who have chosen a candidate might switch.
``Nothing is for certain and the large number of undecideds and voters whose commitment to their candidate is soft makes anything possible,'' Brown said.
In the Democrats' Senate race, Meek leads Greene 35-28. Former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre gets 6 percent of the vote. Less than three weeks ago, Meek was trailing 23-33. In the Republican race, McCollum is ahead 44-35, but trailed Scott 32-43 in the last poll.
Signs of the unpredictable governor's race have been all over television and the campaign trail.
Last week, when the McCollum camp and its allies raised serious questions about the legalities of Scott's latest business venture, a chain of walk-in clinics called Solantic Urgent Care, the infuriated political newcomer flew to Tallahassee unexpectedly and held a tense and angry press conference -- something front-runners seldom do.
Scott has also flooded mailboxes and television sets with negative ads about McCollum. The technique of what's known as ``going negative'' is typically employed by candidates who are behind.
Political experts and insiders also question whether Scott is spending his millions properly. By the end of the election, he will likely have spent about $40 million on ads. Right now, at least six different commercials are running that reveal a host of different messages about his opposition to the so-called ``ground zero'' mosque, his tax plan, immigration and McCollum's legislative record and his ties to a scandal-plagued former party boss.
Longtime political ad man Fred Davis, a California-based Republican consultant not involved in this race, said Scott seems to be panicking.
``Six or seven different messages is just way too many. You can't burn in seven messages,'' Davis said. ``I wouldn't call it desperation; I would call it silly. Seven great ads with different messages can be easily trumped by just one great ad with a consistent message.''
McCollum's message: Scott's untrustworthy. To drive the point home, McCollum released one of his most hard-hitting commercials showing Scott running away from television cameras and refusing to answer questions about a deposition he gave in a case against Solantic.
McCollum's negative ads also show that he doesn't believe he's leading, either.
Still, the new poll and many other recent surveys show that all the trends appear to be favoring McCollum since the last survey:
A plurality of voters -- 42 percent -- say they would prefer to see a government outsider, but that number is down from a majority of 54 percent.
A plurality of voters -- 37 percent -- think Scott would do a better job handling the economy, but that's a slip of 8 percentage points. About 33 percent say McCollum would do a better job -- an increase of 10 percentage points.
About 45 percent of voters hold a favorable view of McCollum, an increase of 9 percentage points. About 30 percent hold an unfavorable view, a decrease of 4 percentage points.
About 34 percent of voters hold a favorable view of Scott, a decrease of 5 percentage points. About 33 percent hold an unfavorable view, an increase of 9 percentage points.
McCollum is now viewed as more likely to share the values of Republicans and is considered more consistently conservative.
In the Democratic race, Meek's rise mirrors McCollum's. And Greene's fall appears more precipitous than Scott's amid questions about the newly registered Democrat's profiting from the housing crash, his flip-flopping on trips to Cuba, and revelations about hard partying on his yacht, Summerwind.
About 36 percent of voters have an unfavorable view of Greene, while only 25 percent have a favorable view of him. When a candidate is viewed more unfavorably than favorably, pollsters say he's ``upside down.''
Also, unlike Republican voters in the governor's race, a plurality of Democratic voters in the Senate race have long said they'd prefer to see an experienced hand in government rather than a newcomer. Democratic voters also say Meek is more like them and more consistently liberal.
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