Attorney General Bill McCollum's decision to sue the federal government over health care reform looks like a political winner, according to a new poll showing that he has widened his lead over state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink in the race for governor.
The Mason-Dixon Polling & Research survey released Monday shows that 51 percent of registered Florida voters approve of McCollum's lawsuit, while 39 percent are opposed.
As the state appears to lean toward the right, the Republican McCollum draws 49 percent support compared to 34 percent who would vote for Sink, a Democrat, according to the poll of 625 registered Florida voters.
"The lawsuit probably gave McCollum a little lift and has put him in a strong position, but there's more going on here," said Mason-Dixon pollster Brad Coker.
Coker said the numbers that "jump out at me" are those that show McCollum is winning support from 24 percent of Democrats, while Sink only draws 3 percent of Republican support.
"Also, there's no gender gap. That's a problem for Sink," he said. "A Democratic woman can't win without the strong support of women."
The poll indicates that McCollum would beat his Republican primary challenger, Sen. Paula Dockery, by 64 percent to 9 percent. McCollum appears to be picking up momentum. The last time Mason-Dixon polled the race, in June, McCollum had a 6 percentage point lead. Now he's up 15 percentage points.
Voters have begun to view McCollum in a better light, with 39 percent saying they have a favorable view of the attorney general, a 10 percentage-point increase since the last Mason-Dixon poll. In that time, Sink's numbers haven't moved, with 24 percent of voters expressing a favorable view of her.
"The poll is further evidence Alex Sink has failed to gain traction with Florida voters," McCollum spokeswoman Kristy Campbell said, "and her allegiance to the Democrats' failed tax-and-spend agenda and support for big-government health care is a huge liability going into November's election,"
Part of Sink's political difficulty lies in the fact that she's not as well known as McCollum, a career member of Congress who has run in three statewide campaigns. Sink has run only once, in 2006.
"That's the choice in this race: another Washington politician like Bill McCollum, or a business leader like Alex Sink, the only candidate for governor with a comprehensive business plan to revive, remake and reform Florida's economy," said Sink's campaign spokeswoman, Kyra Jennings.
Sink, who has avoided high-profile stances on health care reform, recently has been touring the state promoting a jobs initiative.
Coker said Sink's strategy is a wise one, considering that 47 percent of voters polled said job creation is their top issue. The second-most important issue, closing the state's budget gap, garnered 15 percent support. Affordable health care ranked third, at 12 percent.
The poll shows that independent voters — crucial swing votes in Florida elections — are moving toward the right, but they're not supportive of every Republican position. Overall, thanks to the backing of independents, 50 percent of Florida voters support the Democrats' economic stimulus plan, while 42 percent oppose it. Men and Republicans are the strongest opponents of the stimulus and Democrats and women its major backers.
Still, there are doubts about the beneficial effects of the stimulus package. A near majority — 49 percent — believe the stimulus will not create or save a significant number of jobs. Only 32 percent believe it eventually will create jobs and only 9 percent say it has created or saved a significant number of jobs.
Other issues in the poll:
• Floridians, by a 48-39 percent margin, oppose Republican-backed legislation to link teacher pay to student test scores.
• About 50 percent of voters want to weaken the state's class-size amendment. That's not enough to win at the ballot box because constitutional amendments can pass only if they're approved by 60 percent of voters.
• By a 5 percentage-point margin, voters disapprove of Gov. Charlie Crist's plan to buy $536 million worth of U.S. Sugar lands in the name of Everglades restoration. But 66 percent of voters support other Everglades projects, while just 26 percent favor the U.S. Sugar deal.
The political questions were added by the pollster to a larger, confidential survey commissioned by a private business interest pursuing legislation unrelated to education, health care, energy or the environment.
Marc Caputo can be reached at mcaputo@MiamiHerald.com.