The central message of Gov. Rick Scott's re-election campaign — that he's the one best suited to keep improving Florida's economy — so far isn't convincing most Floridians, a new poll shows.
Despite the governor and state GOP every day pounding home the message that his policies are revving up the state's economy that tanked under Gov. Charlie Crist, a narrow majority of Florida voters, 47 percent to 42 percent, say likely Democratic nominee Crist would do a better job handling jobs and the economy than Scott.
Overall, 46 percent of those surveyed in the Quinnipiac University poll said they would vote for Crist today, and 38 percent said Scott. Fiftyfour percent — including nearly 1 in 4 Republicans — said Scott does not deserve a second term, and 38 percent said he deserves re-election.
The Jan. 22-27 survey of 1,565 registered voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percent.
"Almost a third of voters say the economy/jobs is the most important issue in the governor's race," said Peter Brown, "Most voters are satisfied with the way things are going in the state and more are optimistic than pessimistic about the future, but at this point Gov. Scott isn't getting any credit for that good feeling."
The race is sure to tighten over the next nine months, especially when Republicans start spending tens of millions of dollars depicting Crist as unfit to govern.
Other recent polls show a closer race. An automated Public Policy Polling survey in mid-January showed Crist leading Scott, 43 percent to 41 percent — a 10-point gain for Scott since PPP's last poll. A poll by the Democratic firm Hamilton Polls around the same time showed Crist ahead, 49 percent to 44 percent, while one by Scott's pollster, showed Crist ahead 49 percent to 45.
Scott's allies acknowledge the former health care executive will never exude the warmth and personal appeal of Republican-turned-Democrat Crist. But they are banking on the improving economy and an aggressively negative campaign against Crist winning the governor a second term. Crist formally entered the race in November, but polls taken earlier in the year showed him with a double digit lead.
A web ad released this week by the Florida Republican Party encapsulated their framing of "slick politician, lousy governor" Charlie Crist.
"The numbers tell the story: Florida's unemployment tripled — second highest unemployment jump in America. Eight hundred thousand jobs gone, property values down, bankruptcies up. More foreclosures than any state," a narrator intones. "Which governor took Florida to the bottom? Charlie Crist. What's worse, he didn't stay to fix the mess. He ran away, tried to go to Washington, instead."
Crist has repeatedly scoffed at the notion that voters would blame him for a global meltdown, and this latest poll suggests he is correct. Scott is falling short on his signature issue, the economy.
Running as a Democrat, Crist won't have the vast resources behind him that he used to enjoy as a Republican candidate, and some Democrats have been quietly grumbling that Crist has been slow to build a viable campaign beyond hiring out-of-town consultants.
After quickly parting ways with one campaign manager, Crist is poised to hire a new one: Omar Khan, a well-regarded veteran of the Barack Obama campaigns as well as Florida politics. The campaign has not finalized a start date for Khan, who now works as the White House's director of Congressional and Intergovernmental Relations at the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force. He also was national associate political director for the 2012 Obama campaign.
"Of all the political people I've run into, he's absolutely one of the most talented," said former Florida Democratic Party spokesman Scott Maddox. "I could not think of a better choice for Charlie."
The Quinnipiac poll found that 53 percent of those surveyed approved of the job Charlie Crist did as governor and 36 percent disapproved. Forty percent of Republicans approved of Crist's performance, 64 percent of Democrats and 54 percent of independent voters.
Forty-one percent approved of Rick Scott's performance, and 49 percent disapproved.
Adam C. Smith can be reached at [email protected]tampabay.com.