Crist leads 3-way Senate race in Florida

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Florida Governor Charlie Crist holds a narrow edge over Republican Marco Rubio in a three-way Senate race dominated by economic worries, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Tuesday.

Florida Governor Charlie Crist (R) is introduced as Florida's first lady Carole Crist claps (L) before announcing that he will run as an independent for the U.S. Senate during a news conference in St. Petersburg, Florida April 29 , 2010. REUTERS/Scott Audette

Crist, who left the Republican Party to run as an independent after Rubio mounted a primary challenge against him, leads Rubio 35 percent to 28 percent. Democrat Kendrick Meek trails with 17 percent less than four months before the November election for the open Senate seat.

Crist holds a similar 34 to 29 percent edge over Rubio in a three-way race against Democrat Jeff Greene, who is locked in a tough party primary fight with Meek. The Florida primary will be held August 24.

In the race to succeed Crist as governor, Republican Rick Scott leads Democrat Alex Sink by 34 percent to 31 percent. But Sink leads slightly, 31 percent to 30 percent, when matched against Republican Bill McCollum. McCollum and Scott are waging a bitter Republican primary race.

While incumbents have faced a wave of voter anger in other states, a majority of Florida voters -- 53 percent -- approve of Crist’s performance as governor and 41 percent disapprove. A 57 percent majority says Florida is on the right track.

“Generally incumbents have been at a disadvantage this year, but that hasn’t been the case with Crist in Florida,” Young said. “The move to running as an independent has paid off. He’s capturing the middle space,” said Ipsos pollster Cliff Young.

The Florida Senate battle is one of about a dozen crucial races that could decide whether Democrats hold their Senate majority and their ability to push President Barack Obama’s legislative agenda.

All 435 seats in the House are up for grabs in the November 2 election as well as 36 of the 100 seats in the Senate. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs acknowledged on Sunday that Republicans could win control of the House.

Rubio, a favorite of the conservative Tea Party movement, recently announced he had raised $4.5 million in the second quarter in a harbinger of what promises to be a big-spending battle.

Crist, who is aiming to attract independents and moderates from both parties, called a special legislative session to put a constitutional ban on offshore drilling on the November ballot.


But a bare majority of poll respondents, 51 percent, said their personal well-being had not been affected at all by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, while 47 percent said it had been affected “a lot” or “a little.”

The economy is the No. 1 issue for Florida voters, with 51 percent naming it their top concern. The environment was second with 15 percent and the Gulf of Mexico oil spill was well back with only 6 percent.

“Just like at the national level, it’s all about jobs and the economy,” Young said. “Voters are angry about the economy, but how they direct that anger is not clear yet.”

In the governor’s race, McCollum was once considered the easy favorite for the Republican nomination but he has been challenged by an advertising blitz from wealthy businessman Rick Scott, the former chief executive of the Columbia/HCA hospital chain when it was forced to pay $1.7 billion in Medicare fraud fines.

The poll found either Republican will have a tough race against Democrat Sink. Independent candidate Bud Chiles trailed badly in either match-up with about 13 percent of the vote.

The Ipsos poll of 600 registered voters was taken July 9-11 for Reuters and has a margin of error of 4 percentage points. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish and the data were weighted to Florida’s registered voter population according to U.S. Census figures.