It's tighter than a rusty bolt on a '55 Ford, closer than Lassie and Timmy, hot enough to peel house paint.
A new Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9/UF Graham Center poll confirms what we're running out of ways to describe: The Florida governor's race remains tied heading into the closing days of the most negative and expensive campaign the state has ever seen.
The poll finds 36 percent of likely voters backing Republican incumbent Rick Scott, 36 percent backing Democratic nominee Charlie Crist and 6 percent backing Libertarian nominee Adrian Wyllie.
"When it gets down to be this close, it's quite difficult for any poll, given the margin of error … to tell you who's going to win," said Christopher McCarty, director of the UF Survey Research Center and director of the University of Florida's Bureau of Economic and Business Research.
An unusually high 13 percent refused to say whom they support and 7 percent were undecided. Exclude those who would not answer about the governor's race, and the numbers shift to 42 percent support for Crist, 41 percent for Scott, and 7 percent for Wyllie — still a dead heat.
The poll also found the Amendment 2 medical marijuana ballot initiative falling well short of 60 percent support needed for it to pass. Only 46 percent of likely voters support the measure and 43 percent oppose it. Other recent polls have showed significantly stronger support.
The telephone survey of 850 likely Florida voters was conducted Oct. 24-28 for the Tampa Bay Times, Bay News 9 and News 13 of Orlando by the University of Florida's Bob Graham Center for Public Service and Bureau of Economic and Business Research. The poll, which included respondents using landlines and cellphones, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. Results were weighted by age, party registration and media market, thus allowing the results to mirror the distribution in the Florida Voter File.
The Crist-Scott contest remains essentially unchanged — despite two televised debates ("Fangate") and tens of millions of dollars in advertising — since the last Times partner poll nearly three weeks ago also showed a tossup.
Bonita Reynolds, a 91-year-old Democrat in Brandon, is among the more than 2 million Floridians who already have voted, and she went with Crist.
"From the very beginning, I've been for Crist," Reynolds said. "I do not think (Scott) should be in there for another four years."
Reynolds said she appreciates Crist's support for the federal health care law.
"There are so many people who are suffering," she said. "I don't think Scott is going to do anything; he doesn't even want to raise the minimum wage."
Republican John Zarling, a 52-year-old retired Army sergeant from Palm Harbor, also voted already —"Republican across the board" — and said he likes the way Florida is headed under Scott.
And Charlie Crist? "I think he's more worried about Charlie Crist than the people of Florida," said Zarling.
The poll shows Crist leading among independent voters and comfortably in the battleground of Tampa Bay. But Scott had a 10-point lead among white voters overall and overwhelming leads across more conservative North Florida.
Troy Williams, a 47-year-old civil engineer and registered independent from Fort Lauderdale, said he distrusts Scott because of Medicare fraud at Scott's former hospital chain.
"I'm for smaller government and lower taxes, and I have voted Republican in the past. But I can't vote for Rick Scott even if he shares my views. … I want someone who can work across the aisle," Williams said. "Even though he switched his views, I'm pretty sure he's (Crist) still a Republican and a conservative at heart."
In a race so close, a third-party candidate is normally positioned to tip the race one way or the other, but Libertarian Wyllie appears be shaving votes from Crist and Scott.
"It looks like Wyllie might be taking a little bit more away from Crist, but not much," McCarty said.
Timothy Ryan, a 25-year-old commercial laundry manager in Sarasota, said he was unsure whether to vote for Scott or Wyllie. He probably will vote for Scott because the race appears so close.
"I don't want Charlie Crist to win. I'm not jazzed about either of the candidates," Ryan said.
Most other recent polls point to a neck-and-neck race as well. An Oct. 22-27 poll released Thursday by Quinnipiac University Polling Institute shows Crist leading 43 percent to 40 percent, within the margin of error. An Oct. 27-29 poll by the Democratic firm SEA Polling & Strategic Design shows Scott leading 46 percent to 44 percent, also within the margin of error.
Times/Herald staff writers Rochelle Koff and Marc Caputo contributed to this report. Contact Adam C. Smith at [email protected] Follow @adamsmithtimes.