Florida Senate Numbers …
Without Rubio

Public Policy Polling released new survey numbers for what appears to be an upcoming open US Senate race, sans incumbent Marco Rubio (R). It appears likely that the senator will soon announce he is not seeking re-election in order to devote his full attention to a presidential run.

The PPP survey (March 19-22; 923 registered Florida voters; 425 self-identified Republicans; 371 self-identified Democrats) tested the Florida Senate race in various configurations late last week and found what most of us would expect to see in politically marginal Florida -– in an open seat situation, the campaign would become a toss-up.

First, Sen. Rubio was tested before the entire respondent universe, and he scored a 45:40 percent favorable to unfavorable job approval. From a firm that normally produces upside-down ratios almost across the board in response to this question, Rubio’s five-point positive is actually a lot stronger than it looks.

Against announced Democratic senatorial candidate Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-FL-18) and probable contender Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL-9), Rubio fares well considering the state’s 50/50 political nature.

In a ballot test solely against Rep. Murphy, Sen. Rubio scores a 48-41 percent advantage. Against Rep. Grayson, the margin is a similar 49-40 percent. The closeness of the two results suggest that the candidates’ names are serving as mere Democratic placebos, as neither Murphy nor Grayson has strong statewide name identification. Therefore, beginning a campaign against an unfamiliar opponent, Sen. Rubio is staked to leads in high single-digit territory.

But, things change when Rubio is removed from the ballot test, which will likely be reality when the senator announces he is not going to seek re-election.

PPP tested a trio of statewide Republican elected officials, two of whom appear interested in running for the Senate should Rubio move on. For Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, state CFO Jeff Atwater, and Attorney General Pam Biondi, each paired in individual head-to-head hypothetical contests against representatives Murphy and Grayson, the results are unsurprising.

In most cases, the Republicans have a slight lead with both candidates in the low 40s or high 30s, except in the case of Lopez-Cantera who trails both Democrats. Attorney General Biondi fares the best against Murphy and Grayson in the trial runs — 45-42 percent against Grayson and 45-41 percent over Murphy — but she is least likely to run for Senate since it is becoming apparent that her next move would be to enter the open race for governor in 2018. At that time, incumbent Gov. Rick Scott (R) will be ineligible to seek a third term.

On the other hand, both Murphy and Grayson lead the lieutenant governor. Here, Murphy tops Lopez-Cantera by a more substantial 41-34 percent, while Grayson is up by a similar 40-36 percent.

Though he no longer lives in Florida, former Rep. Allen West (R-FL-22), who Murphy unseated in 2012, also was tested. Despite his defeat as a sitting incumbent, but in a reconfigured seat post-redistricting, West fares well against his former foe and Grayson. Murphy leads him just 41-39 percent, while Grayson scores a similar 42-39 percent slight advantage.

Much attention will be paid to the Florida Senate race in the coming 19 months remaining in this election cycle. Throughout that time, virtually every poll will probably show a tight race, and the lead will seesaw back and forth between the two eventual major party nominees. In the end, the party that wins Florida in the presidential contest will likely carry the Senate nominee into office, as well.

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