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Poll shows Chiles in lead

Gov. Lawton Chiles has taken a lead over Jeb Bush, a pollster said Friday.

The poll was conducted by Jim Kitchens, an Orlando pollster who has historically worked for Democrats and is a consultant for Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Bob Crawford.

Chiles, who trailed by 10 points in a survey two weeks ago, now leads Republican Jeb Bush by 8{ points, according to the new poll. The survey of 502 likely voters was conducted Wednesday and Thursday and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points. It showed the Democratic incumbent leading 49.7 percent to 41.3 percent with 9 percent undecided.

The poll also showed opposition to the casino amendment casinos dipping below 50 percent for the first time _ although voters still are saying they would turn it down, 48.8 percent to 37.3 percent with 13.9 percent undecided. The Limited Casinos effort is airing a $6-million television ad campaign, compared with $600,000 worth of ads by the opposition.

Bush led Chiles 49-39 in a poll conducted Oct. 2 and 3 by Associated Industries of Florida. Chiles has gained steadily in weekly AIF polls since then, but the Friday poll,released by the trial lawyers' political action committee, was the first to show Chiles leading Bush since the Sept. 8 primary.

"I don't doubt that the polls are close and the race is tightening but I give that poll no credibility," said Bush campaign manager Sally Harrell.

Chiles closed the gap and broke out into a lead for several reasons, Kitchens said.

Throughout the summer and early fall, Bush put up a heavy run of television ads while the Chiles campaign was quiet. Now Chiles' message, including ads attacking Bush, are taking hold.

"One of the things we see very clearly is Democrats are going home" to Democratic candidates, he said. "As Gov. Chiles communicates and other Democrats communicate you see a pull back toward them." Chiles was holding 79 percent of the Democratic vote, while Bush was holding 71 percent of Republicans.

The swing vote that decides all statewide elections in Florida is breaking heavily toward Chiles, 53 to 34 percent, he said.

Chiles' ads raising questions about Bush's experience, his business dealings and his promises to fight crime have hardened the Republican nominee's negative ratings and moved voters to Chiles.

The national news also is helping Chiles. President Clinton's foreign policy achievements and the good economic news is bumping the president up a bit and that's helping Chiles.

Every pollster is always quick to say it ain't over. Just as Chiles has cut into Bush with negative ads, Bush can try the same tactic.

"I don't think you're going to see a lot of positive from here on out," Kitchens said.

In the other Cabinet races:

Agriculture commissioner: Bob Crawford leads Jim Smith 44 to 37 with 19 percent undecided.

Insurance commissioner: Bill Nelson leads Tim Ireland 44 to 33 with 23 percent undecided.

Education commissioner: Frank Brogan leads Doug Jamerson 38 to 37 with 25 percent undecided.

Comptroller. Gerald Lewis leads Bob Milligan 39 to 34 with 27 percent undecided.

Secretary of state. Sandra Mortham leads Ron Saunders 38 to 34 with 28 percent undecided.

Attorney general. Bob Butterworth leads Republican Henry Ferro 48 to 30 with 22 percent undecided.

The poll also showed voters favored a ban on net fishing by 57 to 20.5, and favored a limit on state revenue collection by 37.5 to 24.9 percent.