TALLAHASSEE — Democrat Alex Sink may be the biggest beneficiary of a primary election slugfest between the two Republican candidates for governor, according to a poll released Thursday.
The Quinnipiac University survey shows Sink, Florida's chief financial officer, with a 31 percent to 29 percent edge over Attorney General Bill McCollum if he wins Tuesday's primary. It's the first lead Sink has had in a survey by the polling firm. If former health care executive Rick Scott's the nominee, Sink would hold a 33 percent to 29 percent edge. In both cases, independent candidate Lawton "Bud" Chiles pulls 12 percent of the vote, and about 20 percent are undecided.
McCollum and Scott have poured a combined $50 million into their primary battles, much of it into negative advertising. At the same time, the poll shows more Florida voters are becoming disenchanted with the two men.
"Ms. Sink has obviously benefited from all those negative ads that have gone on between Scott and McCollum — no doubt about it," said Peter Brown, the assistant director of Quinnipiac's Polling Institute.
Quinnipiac surveyed 1,096 Florida voters Aug. 11-16, and the poll carries a 3 percentage point margin of error.
In a separate poll released Wednesday, Quinnipiac showed McCollum surging by 12 percentage points against Scott, giving him a lead of 44 percent to 35 percent.
The poll also shows Gov. Charlie Crist with a relatively steady lead in the U.S. Senate race over Republican Marco Rubio. Crist would garner 39 percent of the vote to Rubio's 32 percent and Democrat Kendrick Meek's 16 percent. If Jeff Greene wins the Democratic nomination next week, Crist is up 40 percent to Rubio's 32 percent and Greene's 15 percent.
Crist, the Republican-turned-independent, gets his support largely from Democrats and from those who approve of his job as governor. In the poll, Crist gets more Democratic support than either Meek or Greene.
Noting Crist's "phenomenal" support among Democrats, Brown said, "I'm quite confident that if Charlie Crist gets 40-plus percent of the Democratic vote in November, he is likely to be the next U.S. senator from Florida."
The key question is: Can Crist hold those Democrats?
The answer's no, according to GOP strategist Rick Wilson. He argues Crist's support will erode once African-American voters shift to Meek if he is the nominee and that the Democratic infrastructure will be heavily invested in the race.
"They are going to end up backing Kendrick fully and passionately," Wilson said. "You can't screw your African-American base voters. They just can't take that political risk."
The Senate race has stayed relatively constant in Quinnipiac surveys, while other polls show Crist's lead shrinking. But the governor's race has seen a decided shift toward Sink.
Brown noted that the majority of voters simply don't know enough about Sink to form an opinion: "Once the primary's over, I assume that Wednesday morning the race is to define Alex Sink."
Meanwhile, both McCollum and Scott are "upside down" in their favorability ratings, in that more people rate them as unfavorable. The poll shows that 43 percent of voters don't like McCollum, compared with 33 percent who do. Scott has a similar 40 percent to 28 percent imbalance.
On other issues, the poll found:
• President Barack Obama sits at a 47-47 approval/disapproval rating, which is up slightly from the last poll's 46-50 number.
• Florida voters don't like the new federal health care law to the tune of 56 percent to 35 percent. Republicans hate it, Democrats like it (to a lesser degree), and independents mirror the state as a whole.
• Forty-nine percent of Florida voters think the United States should not be involved in the war in Afghanistan, compared with 43 percent who say it's the right thing. Party breakdowns are similar to the health care question, except GOP voters mostly like the war and Democrats mostly don't.
Lee Logan can be reached at email@example.com.