Jeb Bush holds a five-point lead over Gov. Lawton Chiles in a weekly poll released Thursday by Associated Industries of Florida.
The poll by the political arm of the statewide business lobby gave Bush a 48-43 lead with 9 percent undecided among an angry and negative electorate. The margin of error in the sample of 800 voters was plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. The voters were interviewed Monday and Tuesday.
Bush shows strength across the state, especially in North Florida and East-Central Florida, while Chiles' strongholds are Tallahassee, Gainesville and South Florida. Chiles has gained four points since AIF's first poll two weeks ago but not at Bush's expense. Bush has held his near-majority in the opinion survey but hasn't managed to pull away.
Bush was rated favorably by 51 percent of the poll's respondents but still had a high 34 percent negative, mainly among Democrats. Chiles has a slightly higher favorable rating (57 percent) but also a higher negative (39 percent).
Marian Johnson, Florida Business United vice president for political operations, said if undecided voters do not move soon they may decide not to vote.
The outcome of the race could hinge on which candidate gets his supporters to the polls on Election Day.
An ominous note for incumbents is that 46 percent of those surveyed think the state is headed in the wrong direction while 33 percent said it is moving in the right direction.
In the agriculture commissioner race, the AIF poll showed Jim Smith holding a big lead over incumbent Bob Crawford, 46 to 31, with 23 percent undecided. That is roughly the same margin Smith has held over Crawford for the past two weeks. Smith dropped out of the governor's race and took the party's nomination for the agriculture job after the GOP's original nominee withdrew.
Crawford's campaign said Thursday its poll shows the Democrat leading 42 to 38. The poll was taken Tuesday and Wednesday after Crawford began airing an ad attacking Smith as a career politician who jumped from one race into another.
"The poll clearly shows that when people hear about the way Jim Smith got into this race, they vote against him," said Screven Watson, Crawford's campaign manager.
In other races:
Education commissioner: Republican Frank Brogan leads incumbent Democrat Doug Jamerson 36 to 31. Thirty-two percent remain undecided. (Because of rounding they don't add up to 100.)
Secretary of state: Republican Sandra Mortham leads Democrat Ron Saunders 33 to 31 with 36 percent undecided.
Comptroller: Democratic incumbent Gerald Lewis leads Republican challenger Bob Milligan 37 to 32 with 31 percent undecided.
Insurance commissioner: Democrat Bill Nelson leads Tim Ireland 41 to 33 with 26 percent undecided.
Attorney general: Democratic incumbent Bob Butterworth leads Republican Henry Ferro 41 to 31 with 28 percent undecided.