Democrat Alex Sink is nursing a narrow lead over Republican Rick Scott in the Florida governor's race, according to a new poll showing that his barrage of negative ads is nevertheless hurting her candidacy.
Though Sink is ahead by 4 percentage points, the percentage of likely Florida voters who view her negatively has jumped by double digits in the Mason-Dixon Polling & Research survey.
Sink's 44-40 lead has shrunk from the 47-40 edge she held over Scott last month — a sign that the static Scott isn't impressing voters enough, either.
Last month, Mason-Dixon's poll showed 23 percent of voters had an unfavorable impression of Sink. Now, 33 percent do, as Scott pounds away at her in ads raising questions about her time as a banker and her votes as state chief financial officer on the state's investment board.
Still, Sink is seen in a favorable light by 38 percent of voters and is far better liked than Scott, who was heavily attacked in the Republican primary for heading a hospital company that was slapped with a record $1.7 billion fraud fine.
Nearly half of likely voters see Scott negatively, but only a quarter view him favorably. Yet the race is still well within the poll's error margin.
"Given his abysmal favorable to unfavorable ratio, this race should not even be close," said Brad Coker, a Mason-Dixon pollster.
But this is a strong Republican year and Sink hasn't distinguished herself in the eyes of enough Florida voters, many of whom are fed up with President Barack Obama.
"Given the overall voter frustration with and anger toward the Democrats in Washington coupled with Florida's slightly Republican leaning tendencies, Sink is still sailing into the wind despite her current lead," Coker said. "She likely needs to land one more big punch raising concerns about Scott's integrity to weather the storm."
The two candidates square off Friday in a Univision television debate for the first time. (Univision tapes the debate Friday afternoon, then airs it in Spanish on its affiliate Florida stations, beginning at 11 p.m. At midnight, the debate — in English and Spanish — will be available on www.Univision23.com.)
Though this poll shows Sink ahead, other polls that forecast a higher Republican turnout — a strong possibility in this election — give Scott the edge.
Sink, Florida Democrats and the state's police union have been running ads noting Scott's time at Columbia/HCA hospital chain and the fact that he pleaded the Fifth 75 times in a civil deposition concerning a contract dispute.
Scott has hit back. His campaign and the state's Republican party have excoriated Sink as an insider. They've run ads pointing out that Sink cast votes for state investments that lost billions. Scott has pressed another line of attack by suggesting Sink has fraud issues in her background because the bank she once worked for, NationsBank, was fined and sued for selling bogus securities.
In both cases, the ads misleadingly suggest Sink had more of a role in the problems than she really did because she wasn't in charge when the financial troubles cropped up. But, like Sink, Scott said he didn't know of the problems that unfolded on his watch, either.
Raising the issue of fraud has its risks for Scott to the degree that, if the campaign is about character, Sink would likely win, Coker said. He noted that independents slightly favor Sink, but voters across the board are so upset with the economy and Democrats nationally that it might not matter.
"If voters decide primarily on issues," he said, "the advantage goes to Scott as the national Republican tide would likely carry him over the finish line."
Marc Caputo can be reached at mcaputo@MiamiHerald.com.