Polls find unpredictable Senate races in Illinois, Florida

Florida’s Senate race is arguably the most confusing of all 2010 contests. Not only are the primary fields of both parties are in flux, but most high-profile contenders (Jeb Bush, Alex Sink, Bill McCollum) have declined a run - leaving politicians with little statewide name recognition.

Both of these problems make Research 2000’s poll of Florida’s Senate race somewhat useless. For one, the survey included McCollum and Rep. Allen Boyd - both of which announced they would not run while the poll was in the field. Second, of the six candidates tested, only Charlie Crist and Bill McCollum ring enough of a bell for their number to be meaningful. That said, there are some interesting tidbits to be found.

  • If Governor Charlie Crist jumps in the race (which is considered an unlikely prospect, but the NRSC is trying to lure him in), he would be the overwhelming favorite to win the Senate race. Not only does he enjoy an amazingly high favorability rating (65% versus 23%), but he also crushes all Democratic opponents: 49% to 28% against Rep. Kendrick Meek, 52% to 26% against Boyd, and 52% to 21% against state Senator Gelber.
  • Bill McCollum - the only other candidate known by more than a third of voters - also crushes Democratic opponents (by 16% against Meek, by 20% against Boyd, by 28% against Gelber). Part of this should be attributed to his higher name recognition, but McCollum enjoys a strong favorability rating: 42% to 23%.
  • Finally, Research 2000 tested Marco Rubio - the most likely among these three Republicans to be the GOP’s general election nominee. Rubio’s name recognition is low, though negative (11% to 18%) and he trails two of the Democrats: 31% to 22% against Meek, 29% to 22% against Boyd, 23% to 23% against Gelber. There are so many respondents who are undecided in these three match-ups that it is hard to make much of these numbers.

These numbers teach us two things. First, the NRSC is right to try to recruit Charlie Crist. His entry in the race would be the best news Senate Republicans could get this cycle and it could very well leave Florida out of the list of competitive Senate races. On the other hand, it would open up the gubernatorial race.

Second, the race is wide open if Crist does not jump in - and we probably will not know what to make of it until well into 2010. To the extent that the match-ups involving Rubio pitted against each other candidates with equally low name recognition, they reveal just how unpredictable the race is because of the humongous number of undecided voters.

Research 2000 also tested the Illinois Senate race, where Democrat Roland Burris will face voters for the first time since he was appointed by Rod Blagojevich.

The first issue, of course, is the Democratic primary - and there is certainly an opening for potential Burris challengers:

  • Burris’s favorability rating is mediocre, with 35% holding a favorable opinion and 35% an unfavorable one. Rep. Schakowsky, by contrast, has a positive rating of 33% to 10%; state Treasurer Giannoulias does too, 36% to 15%.
  • In a primary match-up, Burris leads with 26% versus 12% for Schakowky and 11% for Giannoulias.

Needless to say, for an incumbent to get a quarter of the vote in a primary match-up is a sign of great weakness, and the fact that his two potential opponents have far lower name recognition than he does limit their numbers. If either Schakowsky or Giannoulias jumps in the race, Burris will be greatly endangered. (On the other hand, he would be in a better position than expected if both jump in.)

The second issue is the general election, and all three of these Democrats lead against their potential Republican contenders - Rep. Kirk and Rep. Roskam:

  • Kirk is heralded as a promising candidate for Republicans, but his favorability rating is not very good: 37% hold a favorable view of him, versus 41%. Roskam is not as well known (19% favorable, 23% unfavorable).
  • Burris leads Kirk 37% to 30%; he leads Roskam 38% to 25%. Those are good showings for a politician who has just gone through as much press as Burris has - but any incumbent under 50% is vulnerable, let alone one who is under 40%.
  • Schakowsky also leads Kirk (36% to 30%) and Roskam (37% to 25%), as does Giannoulias (38% to 30% and 38% to 25%).

What is absolutely fascinating is that Kirk and Roskam get the same amount of support against all three Democrats - 30% for Kirk and 25% for Roskam. That is a particularly disappointing level of support for Kirk, who has a far higher level of name recognition than any of the three Democrats (including Burris), and it suggests any Republican (even one with a moderate reputation) will face great difficulties winning the race.

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