On Friday, Quinnipiac University released the results of their latest regular large-sample Florida poll (Oct. 31-Nov. 7; 1,185 registered Florida voters; 513 self-identified Republicans), the first public statewide survey fielded since Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14) announced his challenge to Sen. Bill Nelson (D). The results are quite promising for the Ft. Myers/Naples representative. According to the Q-Poll, Sen. Nelson holds only a two-point (42-40 percent) lead over Rep. Mack.
Late last month the congressman reversed his previous Senate decision, doing an about-face on his March decision not to run. After state Senate Pres. Mike Haridopolos dropped out of the race and it became clear that former interim Sen. George LeMieux and ex-state House Majority Leader Adam Hasner were showing no signs of exciting the GOP electorate, Mack began reconsidering his decision. With his party still needing a strong Senatorial candidate, and with the Republicans currently looking relatively strong in Florida against President Obama, suggesting a potential positive GOP push for the down-ballot elections, Mack felt his best chance to win statewide is in the current election.
With the new Q-Poll supporting the assertion that Mack would be Nelson’s strongest challenger, the numbers are indeed encouraging for the GOP because the Democratic senator has positive approval ratings. Forty-seven percent of those surveyed approve of his job performance. Just 27 percent disapprove, which is one of the better ratios of all senators standing for re-election in 2012. Florida’s other senator, freshman Republican Marco Rubio, has a similar rating. His ratio is 49:29 percent favorable to unfavorable. Therefore, if Mack is within two points of Nelson when the incumbent’s favorability is high, then the challenger’s ability to grow will be substantial once the contrast strategy begins to take hold.
In previous polls testing LeMieux and Hasner against Nelson, the senator enjoyed a substantial lead. Usually, the spread was in the 15-point range with the incumbent hovering around the 50 percent mark. The latest Q-Poll results already bring Mack within two points, and place both candidates in the low 40s, which casts this race in a new competitive light. For the GOP to recapture the Senate majority and reach even a moderate level of strength within the body, the Florida seat will have to move into the highly competitive realm.
While Mack’s late start puts him behind in the money contest, he is clearly the strongest Republican both in the GOP primary and against Nelson. The candidates’ financial standing, however, should be of concern to Mr. Mack. The senator has more than $7.5 million in his campaign account. LeMieux has raised $1.3 million and Hasner just over $1 million. Rep. Mack has $347,000 in the bank, by contrast. His long period of deciding to run has certainly hurt him in fundraising.
If this poll is an accurate depiction of the Florida electorate, and Quinnipiac has a reliable record in the state, then it looks like this Senate race is on the precipice of becoming as competitive as many believed it would when the election cycle begun.