There's a good reason Charlie Crist has begun airing television ads questioning the integrity of Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Kendrick Meek in the Senate race: Crist is fading in the three-way race, and with early voting already under way he needs to halt the rising support for Rubio and Meek.
The path to victory for Crist is winning roughly 40 percent of Democrats, 25 percent of Republicans, and 50 percent of independent voters. A new Mason-Dixon poll of likely voters released Saturday night underscored the steep hurdle facing the governor running as a nonpartisan candidate.
In August, Crist was leading Rubio among independents by 13 points, but Rubio now leads Crist among those same voters 38 percent to 27 percent. Crist is pulling 18 percent of Republicans, compared to 75 percent for Rubio. Forty-four percent of Democrats are backing Meek, while 37 percent support Crist.
"Crist's support has now dropped 10 points since May, while Rubio and Meek have each made gains. In essence, Crist is bleeding Democrats to Meek and independents to both Meek and Rubio,'' Mason-Dixon pollster Brad Coker said.
Overall, the Sept. 20-22 poll found 40 percent of likely voters backing Rubio, 28 percent Crist and 23 percent Meek. The margin of error was plus or minus 4 percent.
In a three-way race, 40 percent is a comfortable place to be, especially with absentee voting already under way. Anything can and does happen in Florida politics, but five weeks out, the race is Rubio's to lose.
It looks like Florida voters will get more opportunity to size up the main Senate candidates than we initially thought. Crist has agreed to participate in two more televised debates with Rubio and Meek.
The first one, airing Oct. 6 on WFTS-Ch. 28, will be moderated by George Stephanopoulos and two local media panelists. The next one is the Leadership Florida and Florida Press Association debate Oct. 19 at Nova Southeastern.
Crist and the others already had agreed to the CNN-USF-St. Petersburg Times debate on Oct. 24 in Tampa, as well as a Univision debate held last week. Meanwhile, the Crist campaign says it is seriously considering an Oct. 15 Fox affiliates debate and a NBC News debate featuring NBC's David Gregory on Oct. 26.
Here's the gubernatorial debate schedule for Rick Scott and Alex Sink: Friday, Oct. 8. Univision studios, Miami; Wednesday, Oct. 20, Nova Southeastern University, Davie; Monday, Oct. 25, University of South Florida, Tampa.
Rubio's Republican credit card confusion
A couple of months ago, when Rubio was explaining why he often charged personal expenses on his state party card, he was adamant. "It's not the party's credit card. It's mine. … It's secured under my personal Social Security number,'' he insisted, contrary to the opinion of the party itself and pretty much everyone else who had a card.
So it's curious to hear Rubio explain why he won't release two years of credit card statements: "Those are party documents. The Republican Party is responsible for those things."
Romney in Pasco on Friday?
The Buzz is Mitt Romney and Rubio will appear at a "Reclaim America" rally in Pasco County on Friday.
Check out two strong candidates for agriculture commissioner, Democrat Scott Maddox and Republican Adam Putnam, on Political Connections on Bay News 9 today at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.