U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson holds a narrow lead over his likely Republican challenger, according to a new Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald/Bay News 9 poll.
Forty-seven percent of likely voters prefer Nelson, a Democrat, while 42 percent say they would choose U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV, a Fort Myers Republican and likely GOP nominee. Eleven percent were undecided.
Only 36 percent of respondents like Nelson and 12 percent did not recognize him, a sign the Capitol Hill fixture could lose his seat if Mack steps up his fight.
"Nelson is vulnerable," said Brad Coker of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, a nonpartisan, Jacksonville-based company that conducted the poll for the Times, Herald, El Nuevo Herald, Bay News 9 and Central Florida News 13. The telephone survey of 800 registered Florida voters — all likely to vote in the November general election — was conducted July 9-11 and has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.
"Mack has got the name and probably the party behind him, so he could be strong enough to pull it off," Coker said.
Nelson's support traditionally stems from his advocacy of military veterans and the space program, and he's failed to deliver in recent years, Coker said.
But the larger backdrop is an electorate that is dissatisfied with President Barack Obama and with the country's trajectory, the poll reveals.
That sentiment is echoed by Audrey Collette, 77, a retired property manager from Lake Wales, who said she was once excited about Obama but will now vote for a Republican president and senator. She knows little about Mack beyond his name, but thinks he must be better than Nelson.
"I just don't like (Nelson)," she said. "I think he's too much like Barack Obama, and that doesn't excite me."
Retired Pan American employee Frank Berry of Jupiter, a self-described liberal Democrat, said he would support Nelson every day of the week, each minute of the day.
"Connie Mack is a lightweight," he said.
But he acknowledges he doesn't quite know what Nelson has done as U.S. senator.
"On a scale of one to 10, he's a six," Berry said, when asked to rate Nelson's job performance. "He's so low key, he doesn't tout what he's pushed. To tell you the truth, I don't know what he's pushed. What bill did he push? I don't know of any. I don't see Bill Nelson as having a mission, or having anything that he's enthusiastic about."
In a January poll, Nelson was beating Mack 45-42.
Both Nelson and Mack have primary opponents but are favored to win.
Nelson faces little known Glenn A. Burkett, of Naples, who also ran for Senate in 2010.
Running along with Mack in the Republican primary are retired Army Col. Mike McCalister, former U.S. Rep. Dave Weldon and Naples-area conservative Marielena Stuart.
Times staff writers Katie Sanders and Michael Van Sickler contributed to this report.