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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Charlie Crist supporters alarmed with Rubio

16

October

The most persistent rumor this week: Gov. Charlie Crist 44 percent Marco Rubio 30 percent in the race for U.S. Senate. The poll allegedly is the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s, but president Mark Wilson isn’t calling us back.

Is it true? A 14-point race? We have no idea. But Rubio people have told us about it. Crist people have told us about it. And the accounts of the five people from both camps to whom we spoke differ by only a percentage point or two.

Regardless, some of Crist’s top supporters are worried. They say that this isn't the only poll showing that Rubio is scratching and denting the Teflon of Charlie Crist, who has seen record job loss and home foreclosures plague his watch as governor. More and more, they say, likely Republican voters are leaning toward Rubio and away from Crist, who’s having trouble undoing his man-hug of Barack Obama.

Meantime, this morning, Florida’s unemployment rate hit 11 percentage points. A recent InsiderAdvantage poll showed Crist's job-approval ratings below 50 percent (but Crist's camp touted the higher poll numbers the Chamber released). And we hear that Crist’s camp is considering taking out ads on conservative radio – a sign of nervousness considering that the election is 10 months out. One market, Naples-Fort Myers, is the very location of the Obama affair. 

Crist has a considerable lead in name ID and campaign money. He has yet to start spending his money and, if need be, attacking Rubio. Risk: such attacks could bring Jeb Bush into the race on the side of Rubio, the literal sword bearer of Bush (who presented Rubio with his Sword of Chang). Clearly on Rubio's side: the Crist-loathing Club for Growth, which is poised to spend money to even up the odds.

Still, one top Crist supporter even speculated that Crist might consider withdrawing from the race and run for re-election. That probably won’t happen. But while the idea of Crist switching races is unlikely and probably absurd, the entertainment of such an absurdity by the Crist-can’t-lose crowd is noteworthy. They’re nervous. So is Crist, who’s unexpectedly dropping in at Republican committee meetings, where straw poll after straw by rank-and-file Republican base voters show the base favors Rubio.

Crist has presented his trademark what-me-worry face to the public, and he has dismissed the validity of straw polls. Yet he's showing far more interest in the race than he's letting on -- that is, straw polls don't matter, yet I'm campaigning for them..

Rubio has made such a dent by hitting the one-the-road chicken dinner circuit. Couple that with his aggressive use of cyberspace (Facebook and Twitter) and Rubio has a shot at upending the political wisdom by winning with retail politics in a TV state where elections are usually decided in 30-second intervals.

-- Marc Caputo

[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 3:23pm]

    

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