Florida's high-dollar, mean-spirited race for governor remained exactly tied in a new poll Wednesday, with 1.2 million voters already casting ballots and Gov. Rick Scott finally admitting he'll spend some of his personal millions to win.
Scott has spent the past few days ducking questions about whether he'll spend his own money — and now he won't say how much he has or will spend against Democrat Charlie Crist.
"I'll be investing," Scott, who pumped $75.1 million of his own money into his 2010 race for governor, said in an interview scheduled to air Sunday on CBS4 Miami's Facing Florida with Jim DeFede.
"It'll be a fraction of what we've raised," Scott said. "We've had great fundraising, but I've got to offset this smear campaign by this left-wing radical billionaire that's friends of Charlie out of California."
The California "friend" Scott referenced is billionaire investor and environmental activist Tom Steyer, whose NextGen Climate political committee has spent almost $12 million, nearly half of it on TV ads trashing Scott.
Overall, Scott and his allies have spent far more on TV ads than Crist and his allies: $56.5 million to $26.5 million. And most of Scott's ads have been negative, like most of Crist's.
The result: Both men are viewed less favorably than favorably by the electorate. And they're deadlocked in a new Quinnipiac University poll, with each getting 42 percent of the vote.
Libertarian Adrian Wyllie gets about 7 percent in the poll. Without him in the race, Scott and Crist remain deadlocked, at 44 percent each. The poll has a 3.1 percentage point error margin.
"Will nice guys finish last in the Florida governor's race? According to voters, there are no nice guys in this race, since neither Scott nor Crist are viewed favorably," said Peter A. Brown, the Quinnipiac's assistant director of polling.
"The Florida governor's race challenges the idea that voters won't vote for a candidate they don't like," Brown said. "In the Sunshine State this year, voters definitely are voting for the lesser of two evils."
Asked about that comment and whether the race's negativity will depress turnout, Crist brushed aside the concern at a Jacksonville event.
"I don't think it's going to suppress turnout — not if we can count on the numbers I've seen in early voting so far. The numbers I've seen in the last two days are pretty strong," he said. "People know this race is happening."
Indeed, as of Wednesday morning, almost 1.2 million Floridians had cast ballots, which could represent one-fifth of the likely electorate heading into Nov. 4. At least 1 million more ballots will likely be cast by Election Day.
But what Crist didn't mention is that Democrats are being crushed by Republicans in pre-Election Day ballots cast by absentee and in-person early voters.
Though the polls are tied, the early vote returns show a clear advantage for Republicans, who have cast about 47 percent of the absentee and in-person early ballots while Democrats have cast just 36 percent of the ballots. The votes won't be counted until Election Day.
Total advantage in GOP ballots cast: about 138,000.
"Early voting has begun and the election is already being won by Gov. Scott," Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera said Wednesday at a rally in Kendall with Scott and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
But Crist has reason for optimism.
Democrats are doing far better than they were in 2010, when Republicans swept the state while Scott barely won. Democrats, however, are doing far worse than in 2012, when President Barack Obama won the state.
Obama, whose poll numbers are abysmal in Florida, has decided not to come down and campaign for Crist because it could be counterproductive.
"I know the man's got a lot on his plate,'' Crist said. "Let's be honest. This Ebola stuff, and ISIS and everything is going on. It was a real honor to have the first lady come down."
Whether Obama's absence from the campaign trail helps or hurts Crist is anyone's guess. His presence in South Florida for early in-person voting would likely help drive turnout among African-Americans, who tend to early vote in greater proportions than non-Hispanic whites and Hispanics.
Saturday and Sunday mark crucial tests for the Crist campaign's turnout machine because it's the first weekend of early voting, when Democrats can start to make a dent in the GOP's 11.7 percentage point lead in early ballots cast — mostly due to mail-in absentee voting.
Despite the GOP advantage in ballots cast, the Quinnipiac poll found that Crist led Scott 42 to 38 percent among those who had already voted. That's an inside-the-error-margin lead for Crist. And the sample size of these voters is smaller than the rest of the poll of 984 self-identified likely voters.
Factoring in the poll's main cross-tabs that show Republican, Democrat and independent support for each candidate, Scott could lead Crist by as much as 47 to 41 percent in total early votes.
The Quinnipiac poll is the third in about a week to show a tie between the Republican and the Democrat. Neither candidate has taken a clear lead outside the margin of error in any poll.
Crist gets 41.7 percent to Scott's 41.6 percent, according to an average of all 10 public polls released in the race taken this month. Based on those poll averages and the ballot returns by party, Crist could trail Scott by about 46 to 40 percent in early votes cast so far.
With tens of thousands of new votes daily and the advent of an expected Democratic-heavy weekend, the Republican advantage should shrink. Democrats usually do well on Election Day as well. And they have 455,000 more voters than Republicans.
"For all the money spent on this race," Brown said, "it now appears the winner will be the one whose organization excels at the blocking and tackling of politics — getting their voters to the polls."
Times/Herald staff writer Kathleen McGrory contributed to this report.