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Absentee ballot requests buoy Democrats' optimism against Rick Scott

Adam C. Smith, Times Political Editor

Sunday, October 5, 2014 12:21pm

From today's print Buzz column: Mail voting began last week in Florida's gubernatorial race, and the earliest indicators look good for Democrat Charlie Crist.

In the 2010 governor's race, at this point Republicans had requested 12 percent more absentee, mail-in ballots than Democrats. Today, that GOP advantage in requested ballots is just 3 percentage points, and the Crist campaign contends that the growth in Democratic mail ballot requests comes from voters who typically do not vote in nonpresidential election years.

We don't know for whom those ballots will be cast or how many will ultimately be returned, of course, but it's clearly a good sign for Florida Democrats. And it's not the only one.

Polls show a neck-and-neck race but, significantly, for the first time in two months Crist leads Gov. Rick Scott in the average of recent public polls compiled by RealClearPolitics.com, albeit by a mere 1.4 percentage points.

The bottom line is that as voting begins, Crist is still standing after more than $40 million in mostly negative ads by the Scott campaign and the GOP - something that never looked like a sure thing. Scott's financial advantage diminishes in the final month of the campaign, debates could make a difference, and, unlike Democrat Alex Sink four years ago, Crist is actually funding a get-out-the-vote operation.

The race is a coin toss, but Democrats have more reason for optimism than they did a few weeks ago, and Republicans have less.

Crist adviser Steve Schale made a persuasive case in a memo last week that the contest has moved in Crist's direction.

"Gov. Scott started the year receiving an average of 42 percent of the vote in the public polling. After nine months and $41 million on television, he is still receiving 42 percent in the public polling. He is an incumbent stuck," Schale wrote. "What we have is a dog fight, with an incumbent governor who is stuck in the polls after out-spending his opponent 2:1, the same governor who won in 2010 in perfect storm conditions that do not apply to this year."

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