THE VILLAGES — Thousands of cheering Republicans warmly welcomed Rick Scott at a rally in this retirement venue Friday as a new poll showed him with a 6-point lead over Alex Sink in the governor's race.
"Yeah, we're gonna win. No question in my mind," Scott said as he shook hands in a crowd of suntanned retirees, some of whom sipped beer and waved miniature flags after listening to a late-afternoon concert by the country band Diamond Rio.
Scott — dressed in jeans, cowboy boots and an open-necked blue shirt — was introduced by Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who will need a strong showing in Florida in his expected second presidential run in 2012.
For many Republicans, seeing Scott in the flesh after months of watching his TV ads was an enjoyable moment, as dozens in this golf-crazed sprawling mega-subdivision sought pictures or autographs. But he received only mild applause at the end of his 10-minute speech in which he talked about creating jobs by cutting taxes and regulations.
"This will be the No. 1 state in America to do business," Scott told the crowd.
He also said the size of state government has skyrocketed over the past four years, something his fellow Republicans running the Legislature would take issue with. The size of the state budget has shrunk by $7 billion with slumping tax collections.
A new Quinnipiac University survey showed Scott favored by 49 percent of voters and Sink by 43 percent, with 7 percent undecided. Scott's lead is in part the result of a steady barrage of TV advertising and an edge among independent voters.
Scott said the poll numbers don't surprise him. "Look, our message is the message that we're going to create jobs. That's what voters want," he said as the Temptations' Ain't Too Proud to Beg played in the background.
The poll shows the two candidates are viewed as equally lukewarm by voters and attract similar numbers of voters from their respective parties.
"If there's a difference, the difference is this is a bad year to be a Democrat," said Peter Brown, assistant director of Quinnipiac's polling institute. "She's got an additional hurdle. The hurdle appears to be her association with President Obama."
In the poll, 56 percent disapprove of Barack Obama's job performance and 40 percent approve, a split that mirrors independent voters. In that key voting bloc, Scott has a 46 percent to 40 percent edge over Sink.
The poll surveyed 1,151 voters between Sept. 23 and Sept. 28, with a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points. Quinnipiac screened voters based on how closely they are following the election and whether they plan to vote.
Quinnipiac's survey is the third poll in a week to show Scott leading among likely voters. Rasmussen Reports' poll a week ago showed Scott ahead 50 percent to 44 percent, and a Wednesday poll for CNN-Time shows Scott ahead, 47 percent to 45 percent. All three polls show Scott with leads among independent voters.
Both candidates' favorability ratings are relatively stable.