TALLAHASSEE — Rick Scott leads the Republican primary for governor in a new poll thanks to his tens of millions and an old political maxim: It's the economy, stupid.
Despite lingering questions and a scandal in his business background, the health care executive has a 10 percentage-point lead over rival Bill McCollum, according to a poll conducted for the St. Petersburg Times, Miami Herald, Bay News 9 and Central Florida News 13, because voters view Scott as the man who can blow Florida's economy out of the doldrums.
The statewide telephone survey shows Scott with 42 percent support, McCollum with 32 percent, 3 percent favoring another candidate and 23 percent undecided, even after the two men and their allied groups have spent a combined $47 million on TV ads.
The poll of 602 registered voters was conducted Aug. 6-10 by Ipsos Public Affairs, a nonpartisan research company based in Washington, D.C. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points overall, 6.4 percentage points for questions based only on Democrats and 5.9 percent for questions based on Republicans.
The same poll shows the governor's race is a virtual toss-up in November against Democrat Alex Sink and independent Lawton "Bud" Chiles, with many voters not sure how they'll vote.
Scott leads Sink, 30 percent to 29 percent, and Sink leads McCollum, 30 percent to 26 percent, with high numbers of undecideds (26 percent and 29 percent, respectively).
Chiles, namesake son of a former two-term Democratic governor, gets 14 percent in the Scott-Sink matchup and 12 percent if McCollum is the GOP nominee, and draws votes equally from Democrats and Republicans, the poll shows.
Scott's advantage is at odds with a new statewide poll of likely voters by Mason-Dixon Opinion Research, which shows McCollum leading, 34 percent to 30 percent, with one-third of all Republicans undecided.
Mason-Dixon questioned likely voters, while Ipsos questioned registered voters. Taken together, the two polls suggest Scott is more popular with voters generally, but McCollum has an edge among people who are more likely to vote in the Aug. 24 primary.
In the Times/Herald/Bay News 9/Central Florida News 13 survey, nearly two-thirds of all voters, regardless of party, rated jobs and the economy as the biggest problem in Florida. More people viewed Scott as the candidate better equipped to deal with that issue than McCollum.
"Whoever's better on the economy is going to win this thing," pollster Julia Clark said. "I would be happy to put money on it."
Asked which candidate "really understands Florida's economic issues and how to fix them," 41 percent named Scott and 27 percent said McCollum. Eight percent said both, 3 percent said neither and 20 percent were not sure.
"I'm probably going to vote for Rick Scott. I'm just tired of the same old, same old," said June Guy, 53, of Plant City, a Republican and a health care worker who cited the economy as a priority.
The real estate market is so depressed that it's depressing people," she said. "Those of us who are working are in constant fear that we're going to lose our jobs. I'm hoping with his business acumen that he'll be able to see what's missing and fix it."
Tom Park, a 63-year-old Republican retiree in Leesburg, favors McCollum.
"He's more of a known entity," Park said. "He stood up against ObamaCare, and he knows the ins and outs of government. There's only so much antiestablishment stuff that this state can handle."
Park is wary of Scott's past as chief executive of Columbia/HCA, the hospital giant fined $1.7 billion for Medicare fraud.
"He's either not good at tracking things or he knew about the fraud and did nothing," Park said.
Both voters live in Central Florida's I-4 corridor, critical territory in statewide elections.
Since Scott began campaigning in April, he has conducted a lavishly self-funded $34 million "air war," bombarding TV sets across the state, an effective way to build name identification and shape a clear message but no assurance that voters will go to the polls.
McCollum has a more established "ground game" of local supporters who have known the former congressman and two-time U.S. Senate candidate for years and volunteer their time to call voters, drive them to the polls and knock on doors.
Scott has felt the wrath of McCollum's foot soldiers.
On Thursday, a McCollum supporter crashed a Scott rally in West Palm Beach, shouting and making the candidate's speech against an Everglades land purchase unintelligible. The activist kept shouting about a sealed deposition Scott refuses to release in a lawsuit against the Scott-founded Solantic Urgent Care in Jacksonville.
A few weeks ago, McCollum staffers also walked door to door in Jacksonville to collect information from current and former Solantic employees and patients.
A rattled and outraged Scott said people were "scared" because McCollum's campaign staffers seemed like employees of the Attorney General's office who were acting like "Third World thugs."
Times/Herald staff writers John Frank and Cristina Silva contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at email@example.com or (850) 224-7263.