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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Times poll: McCain-Crist not huge Dem draw

19

March

Telegenic, politically savvy, and popular in a critical state, Gov. Charlie Crist has lots of pluses to offer as a potential running mate for John McCain. But delivering a boatload of crossover Democratic votes in Florida may not be among them.

A new St. Petersburg Times/Bay News 9 statewide poll shows that despite his bipartisan popularity, adding Crist to the ticket is only modest help in pulling Florida Democrats over to the GOP column in November.

"There is no reason to expect from this information Charlie Crist adds anything to his ticket in term of helping him win Democrats in Florida," said pollster Tom Eldon of Schroth, Eldon & Associates, which conducted the poll.

Nor does McCain, often touted for his broad appeal, look especially strong among Florida Democrats. The poll shows 16 percent say they are at least somewhat likely to vote for McCain in November, which is in line with the 13 percent of Democrats who voted for Bush in 2000 and 14 percent in 2004.

The governor’s approval rating has been sky high since he took office and many Democrats and Republicans think Crist on the ticket would ensure McCain carries Florida’s crucial 27 electoral votes. But Eldon said he was "stunned" that Crist’s crossover appeal did not crack double digits when Democrats were asked if they would be more likely to vote for McCain if he tapped Crist as his running mate.

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Three percent said Crist as running mate would make them "much more likely," 6 percent said "somewhat more likely," and 87 percent said it would have no effect.

"McCain is still for the war, he’s still for tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans," said Basil Papanastassiou, a 53-year-old therapist in Broward County, dismissing the notion that Crist could sway him to vote for McCain.

The telephone survey of 600 registered and frequent Democratic voters in Florida was conducted March 15-17 for the St. Petersburg Times, Bay News 9 and the Miami Herald. The poll was done by Schroth, Eldon & Associates, whose clients primarily are Democrats. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Still, in a state known for razor-thin electoral margins, the Crist factor can’t be dismissed. A three percent shift from Democrats could deliver 100,000 votes to McCain.

Also, the poll did not measure Crist’s ability to win over independent voters who are crucial in any Florida election. Crist proved his beat won the governor’s mansion against an anti-Republican tide largely on his strength with independent voters.

"It may be a little harder for us because of the home-court advantage, but I’m not really worried no matter who’s on the Republican ticket,’’ Pasco County Democratic chairwoman Alison Morano said of the prospect of Crist as McCain’s running mate. "It’s going to come down to do you want health care, do you want to end this war, do you want to fix this economic crisis we’re in."

Crist arguably delivered the nomination to McCain when he issued a surprise, last-minute endorsement of the Arizona senator and helped him win Florida’s crucial Republican primary in January. Exit polls showed a majority of people who voted for McCain said Crist’s supported mattered a great deal to them.

Since then, Crist has campaigned across the country with McCain and is mentioned in most every list of potential McCain running mates.

Running mates don’t decide elections, however. In March 2004, a St. Petersburg Times poll found that adding Florida Sens. Bill Nelson or Bob Graham to the presidential ticket did nothing to improve John Kerry’s then-winning Florida numbers against President Bush.

The tough climate for Republicans, with a troubled economy and war in Iraq, could be reflected in the relatively few Democrats saying they’d jump to McCain if he tapped Crist, Eldon said.

"That could be an indication of exactly how tough it’s going to be for Republicans to attract Democratic crossover votes this year. It might not be a reflection of Charlie," Eldon said.

In the latest general election polls, McCain leads Hillary Clinton by an average of 3 percent and Barack Obama by an average of 7 percent, according to RealClearPolitics.com.

[Last modified: Wednesday, September 15, 2010 2:19pm]

    

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