Poll: Crist leads Senate race

TALLAHASSEE — Five weeks after bailing on the Republican party to run as an independent, Gov. Charlie Crist leads the three-way race for U.S. Senate in a new Quinnipiac University poll of Florida voters, while both of the Republican contenders for governor lead likely Democratic nominee Alex Sink.

Crist leads with 37 percent of the vote, compared to 33 percent for Republican Marco Rubio and 17 percent for Democrat Kendrick Meek. It is the third major statewide poll since Crist’s April 29 announcement, and Crist has led all three.

Peter Brown, assistant director for Quinnipiac’s Polling Institute, said Crist is doing a pretty good job of attracting votes from Democrats.

But he noted that Meek and primary challenger Jeff Greene are still largely unknown to the public.

“Will he be able to hold the large number of Democratic votes he’s now getting in the poll?” Brown said. “That really will go a long way to determine who wins the Senate race.”

Quinnipiac surveyed 1,133 Florida voters from June 1-7, with a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points. Questions released Wednesday focused on the Nov. 2 general election and did not address the Aug. 24 primary.

In the governor’s race, former health care executive Rick Scott leads Sink 42 percent to 32 percent, while Attorney General Bill McCollum leads Sink 42 percent to 34 percent. The poll shows independent Lawton “Bud” Chiles drawing up to 19 percentage points in a three-way race.

Chiles announced his candidacy midway through the polling period, resulting in a higher margin of error for questions that include him, 4.7 percentage points.

Brown said Chiles has a magic name because of his father, former Gov. Lawton Chiles. But he is still unknown by 80 percent of the electorate.

Sink, Florida’s chief financial officer, is also relatively unknown, with 56 percent of voters saying they do not know enough about her to form an opinion.

The poll also shows Floridians have soured on additional offshore oil drilling and disapprove of President Barack Obama’s response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Fifty-one percent of Florida voters now oppose further offshore drilling, compared with 42 percent who do not.

Those numbers are a 48-point swing from a Quinnipiac survey taken the day before the oil spill. Only 40 percent of Florida voters approve of the job Obama’s doing, compared with 54 percent who disapprove. His approval ratings for handling the oil spill are slightly lower.

Crist, who has a 57 percent job approval rating, will likely benefit if voters see him as effectively responding to the oil spill.

Rasmussen Reports also released a poll Wednesday showing tight races for Senate and governor.

The poll shows Crist tied with Rubio at 37 percent, with Meek garnering 15 percent.

Scott leads Sink 45 percent to 40 percent, while McCollum has 40 percent compared to Sink’s 38 percent.

The poll, which surveyed 500 likely voters June 7 using an automated polling system, did not include Chiles.

It also found that 74 percent of voters say the probe of the Republican Party of Florida’s finances is at least somewhat important to their vote.

But only about half of respondents said they were following news reports of the investigation.