Charlie Crist is in free fall. Just one week after Quinnipiac released the very first poll with Marco Rubio leading the Florida Governor in the GOP’s Senate primary, Rasmussen finds Crist even further down: Rubio leads 49% to 37%, a dramatic turnaround from the December tie and from Crist’s 22% August lead. Crist has sure not said his last word, but given that Rubio is just starting closing the name recognition gap the governor certainly has his work cut out for him.
It is important to keep in mind that Crist’s collapse has at least as much to do with the woes that are befell incumbent governors as with conservatives’ hostility: His approval rating among the electorate at large has fallen to 51% to 47%. That might be a respectable level, but it is nowhere near’s Crist 74-26 in December 2008, his 60-36 in June 2009 and his 52-45 in December - an undeniable downward trend that creates quite a conondrum for the governor: The hard right has long already turned against him, and Rubio has an excellent shot of winning the support of moderate Republicans who disapprove of Crist for reasons that little to do with conservatism.
Both Republicans crush Kendrick Meek in the general election: Rubio leads 49% to 32% and Crist leads 49% to 33%. As I have written before, Florida is undeniably not in the top-tier of Democratic opportunities, but it is worth waiting to see what the numbers will look like at the end of August, when Meek will have spent the summer introducing himself to voters while his two rivals will have poured in their millions into attacking each other.
Rasmussen’s gubernatorial poll of Florida’s Governor race confirms what Quinnipiac found last week: Republican Bill McCollum has opened a lead against Democrat Alex Sink: He is up 46% to 35%, whereas he had a 5% edge in December. While Sink’s name recognition is lower, her net favorability rating is surprisingly mediocre (39-34) while McCollum’s is solid (53-30). Sink will also have to struggle with Barack Obama’s dismal approval rating (42-58), which is all the more interesting considering Rasmussen’s North Carolina poll, which I discuss below, finds his rating at a stronger 48-52.
Alaska: Murkowski is safe, Young is strong
While PPP’s Alaska survey contains no surprise, it is newsworthy considering how rarely the state is polled. PPP found that both of the GOP’s federal incumbents - Senator Lisa Murkowski, Rep. Don Young - enter 2010 in a strong position to secure an additional term.
Murkowski faced a very tough race in 2004, when she was plagued by nepotism charges since her father appointer her to the Senate. Yet, she has a decent approval rating in 2010: 52% to 36%. PPP did not test a named opponent, since none has emerged, by the senator does lead a generic Democrat by a solid 52% to 25% - a margin that bears no trace of vulnerability.
Young’s standing is not as solid but the representative enters 2010 in a far stronger position than he looked to be in 2008, when he barely survived the Republican primary and the general election. His approval rating is still mediocre (43% approve, 41% disapprove) but he has a large 49% to 34% lead against state Rep. Harry Crawford. While his failure to break 50% threshold does suggest he is not fully safe, he spent much of 2008 trailing Ethan Berkowitz by decisive margins before emerging as the victor in November so Democrats would understimate him at their peril. Furthermore, Young has long faced ethical questions but rumors that he might be indicted have been circulating long enough that it does not look like he has to worry about meeting Ted Stevens’s fate.
NC: Even Rasmussen has Burr under 50% while Civitas shows open primary
Senator Richard Burr is holding on to his dubious distinction of the cycle’s most (only?) endangered Republican Senator: A new Rasmussen poll has him under the 50% threshold against Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, though he leads 47% to 37%. Against former state Senator Cal Cunningham, Burr is ahead by a larger 50% to 34%.
That said, it obviously says a lot about the shape of the cycle that the most vulnerable Republican is ahead by double-digits. Furthermore, Rasmussen has his approval rating far stronger than other pollsters: 56-32. This goes against the main finding of surveys like PPP and Civitas, which had shown that Burr was surprisingly little-known; for instance, PPP’s latest poll had Burr’s approval rating at 36/33. Don’t be surprised if the DSCC pays more attention to the state than Burr’s numbers might warrant: Democrats would be well-served to force the GOP to serve some of its resources in North Carolina, since that is money that cannot be used in states like California or Wisconsin.
For now, Democrats’ main hope is that their candidates gain notoriety in the run-up to the May primary, just as had happened to Kay Hagan in 2008. A Civitas poll released last week confirms that none are imposing figures: Marshall only gets 14%, Lewis gets 7% and Cunningham gets 4%, with 75% of respondents undecided. This means the next few months might be decisive as these Democrats will have a chance to monopolize the press coverage and the state’s airwaves without facing a barrage of GOP ads seeking to define them. (I would be surprised if the Marshall-Cunningham-Lewis showdown grows very negative, let alone as ugly as it would need to get for the nominee to emerge wounded out of the primary.)
WI: Disappointing poll for Tom Barrett
Democrats have been upbeat about their chances to defend Wisconsin’s governorship ever since Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett entered the race, but Rasmussen finds him trailing his two Republican opponents: 42% to 38% against former Rep. Mark Neumann and a decisive 48% to 38% against Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker. The favorability ratings confirm not only that Barrett might not be as popular as he has been touted to be, but also that Walker could be a formidable force: his rating is 56-27, compared to 46-35 for Neumann and 44-41 for Barrett.
These numbers might matter beyond the Governor’s race. I doubt there have been any public polls testing the Republican primary, but based on Rasmussen’s favorability ratings it certainly is not a stretch to describe Neumann as the underdog against Walker. That’s exactly what Republicans have been saying in making the case that Neumann should switch over to the Senate race if Tommy Thompson decides not to challenge Russ Feingold.
That said, a party often “wastes” candidates on one race while neglecting another so it would certainly not be surprising for Neumann to stick in the Governor’s race. (One precedent that comes to mind is North Carolina in 2008: The DSCC was pleading with Lieutenant Governor Beverly Perdue and Treasurer Richard Moore to have one of them challenge Elizabeth Dole rather than go after each other in the gubernatorial primary. At the end of the day, none of it mattered because of Kay Hagan but Democrats could not have known just how weak of an incumbent Dole would turn out to be.)