TALLAHASSEE — Florida's economy may be in the tank and its state budget in tatters, but Florida Gov. Charlie Crist is still as popular as ever and the U.S. Senate race is a scramble among the barely knowns, according to a poll released Wednesday.
Crist's approval rating is at 67 percent, as high as President Obama's, the Quinnipiac University poll of 1,370 voters found. Just 24 percent disapprove of his job performance. The poll was conducted Jan. 14-19, just after the Legislature completed its special budget-cutting session and stripped $1.2-billion in spending to close the deficit.
The race to replace retiring Sen. Mel Martinez is just picking up steam, and most Floridians don't know much about the potential field.
The best-known GOP potential candidate, Attorney General Bill McCollum, would have had a tiny early lead over Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who announced last week that she will not seek the seat, the poll found. McCollum had 36 percent; Sink, 35 percent.
Voters in both parties, however, are undecided about most of the potential candidates in the Senate field. The poll found that even if the ballot were to include Sink, 54 percent of registered Democrats said they did not have a candidate.
In a trial heat among Democratic candidates, the only announced candidate, U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek of Miami, got 13 percent to Sink's 15 percent. They were followed by U.S. Rep. Ron Klein of Boca Raton at 9 percent, U.S. Rep. Allen Boyd of Monticello with 8 percent and state Sen. Dan Gelber of Miami at 1 percent.
McCollum's closest rival on the GOP side is U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV of Fort Myers, the son of the former U.S. senator with the same name. In a Republican trial heat, McCollum got 22 percent to Mack's 21 percent, with 10 percent for U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan of Sarasota, 6 percent for former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio of Miami, 2 percent for former Florida House Speaker Allan Bense of Panama City, and 40 percent undecided.
The poll found that 67 percent of Floridians view Crist favorably, 21 percent unfavorably. Obama is viewed favorably by 66 percent and unfavorably by 16 percent in the survey, completed on the eve of his inauguration.
Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald.com.