Telegenic, politically savvy and popular in a critical state, Gov. Charlie Crist has lots of pluses to offer as a potential running mate for Sen. 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, Crist would provide only modest help in pulling Florida Democrats over to the GOP column in November.
Three percent said Crist as a running mate would make them "much more likely" to vote for McCain, 6 percent said "somewhat more likely" and 87 percent said it would have no effect.
"There is no reason to expect from this information that Charlie Crist adds anything to (McCain's) ticket in terms of winning Democrats in Florida," said pollster Tom Eldon of Schroth, Eldon & Associates, which conducted the poll.
Nor does McCain himself look especially strong among Florida Democrats. The poll shows 16 percent say they are at least somewhat likely to vote for McCain, which is in line with the 13 percent of Democrats who voted for George W. Bush in 2000 and the 14 percent in 2004.
"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 his vote.
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.
Gov. Crist's approval rating has been sky high since he took office in 2007, and many Democrats and Republicans think adding him to 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 a McCain-Crist ticket.
Still, in a state known for razor-thin electoral margins, the Crist factor can't be dismissed. A 3 percent shift from Democrats could deliver 100,000 votes to McCain.
Also, the poll did not measure Crist's ability to win independent voters who are crucial in any Florida election. Crist won the Governor's Mansion against an anti-Republican tide largely on his strength with independents.
"Gov. Crist has one of the highest approval ratings in the country, and his appeal extends to independent voters, half a million who came out to vote on Jan. 29 for Amendment 1 even though they couldn't cast a presidential ballot," state GOP spokeswoman Erin VanSickle said. "If you are looking for proof that Gov. Crist can deliver Florida for Sen. McCain, look no further than Jan. 29 — that's exactly what he did."
Pasco County Democratic chairman Alison Morano said she's not especially worried about the prospect of Crist as McCain's running mate.
"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," Morano said. "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 Republican nomination to McCain after issuing a surprise, last-minute endorsement of the Arizona senator the weekend before Florida's crucial Republican primary. McCain won the Jan. 29 contest, and exit polls showed a majority of people who voted for him said Crist's supported mattered a great deal.
Since then, Crist has campaigned across the country with McCain and is mentioned in almost every list of potential running mates.
The tough climate for Republicans, with a troubled economy and a 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 Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton by an average of 3 percent and Sen. Barack Obama by an average of 7 percent, according to RealClearPolitics.com.
Adam C. Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or