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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

New Florida poll highlights the steep climb facing Carlos Beruff against Marco Rubio



That Donald Trump crushed Marco Rubio by nearly 20 percentage points in Rubio's home state primary this year would seem to suggest Rubio has a serious problem with his base - and with his millionaire U.S. Senate primary challenger Carlos Beruff. That may turn out to be the case, but fresh polling data from Associated Industries of Florida shows what a tough hurdle Beruff faces. The June 27 and 28 survey of 732 likely Republican primary voters found 71 percent had a favorable view of Rubio and 21 percent unfavorable. Little known Beruff was viewed favorably by 11 percent and unfavorably by 9 percent (Donald Trump was 62/32).

Those are not poll numbers pointing to a frontrunner, Rubio, with a serious problem with his Republican voters -- as former Gov. Charlie Crist did in 2010, when Rubio pulled his historic upset over the former governor. The AIF poll found that 71 percent of voters said they would vote for Rubio and just 7 percent for Beruff, who already has spent at least $4-million of his own money on TV ads. Ernie Rivera and Dwight Mark Anthony Young - two unknowns also on the primary ballot - each drew 2 percent, and 18 percent said they were undecided.

For Beruff, what may be more daunting than Rubio's 64 percentage point lead is the calendar. Overseas absentee ballots hit the mail in 16 days, other mail-in Florida voting starts in 26. 

There is not a well of resentment and hostility to Rubio as there was to Crist. Nor is there a legion of conservative media outlets and figures - National Review, Mark Levin, Sean Hannity - rooting against Rubio, as there was for Crist. Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham paint him as an amnesty-loving sellout, but Beruff has not nearly the media backing that Rubio did. Nor do I hear anybody suggesting Beruff is the kind of inspiring speaker that Rubio can be.

Rubio may well be vulnerable to a clear and sustained attack on him being a crass opportunist and AWOL senator who won't even commit to sticking through a second term. Even conservatives that generally like Rubio, might be convinced taxpayers should stop paying him to position himself for his next campaign. That he missed a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the same day he announced his plans to run for reelection indicates Crist-like hubris, which also bodes well for Beruff.

And, of course, who knows what Donald Trump might say at any moment if "Little Marco" keeps threanening to stand up to Trump? Florida Republicans apparently like Trump a lot more than Rubio, so that could make a difference.

The bottom line here is that Rubio actually faced a far more vulnerable incumbent six years ago, than Beruff does today - and he had a far more forgiving calendar than Beruff. The outsider candidate this time needs some dramatic breaks and momentum, and he is fast running out of time.

[Last modified: Thursday, June 30, 2016 12:50am]


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