Crist v. Rubio: Game on

By Josh Hafenbrack
Orlando Sentinel
Tallahassee Bureau
December 16, 2009

Game on.

Gov. Charlie Crist’s steady slide in the polls hit a new low Wednesday: A Rasmussen survey showed him tied with his once long-shot rival, former House Speaker Marco Rubio, 43-43 among likely Republican primary voters.

The poll – an automated telephone survey of 431 voters – is the first to show a dead heat between the two candidates vying for a vacant U.S. Senate seat, even though the race has been tightening for months.

“Stunning is a good word for it,” said Scott Rasmussen, the pollster. “I’ll be honest, when we first polled on this primary matchup, I didn’t expect it to be very competitive. What’s happened is the political mood around the country has evolved in a way that’s very bad for Charlie Crist.”

Crist, a Republican, is under fire from conservatives in his own party, anger that’s only grown since Crist enthusiastically backed President Obama’s $787-billion stimulus package earlier this year.

Crist’s trend line in the Rasmussen poll illustrates the fallout. The governor’s support slipped among Republican voters slipped from 53 percent in August to 49 percent in October to 43 percent in December.

The governor, though, still has some strong advantages. A prodigious fundraiser, Crist has some $6 million in his campaign account – and he’s collecting more almost every night. And as governor, Crist has instant access to statewide media coverage, such as Wednesday when he did a three-city flyaround to tout a transportation bill he signed into law.

“I really don’t pay attention to polls that much,” Crist told the Orlando Sentinel editorial board Wednesday. “And really only one poll counts, you hear that before? It’s Election Day.”

Rubio, the first Cuban-American House speaker from 2006-2008, seized on the poll results, citing his “growing momentum” in an e-mail to supporters and calling on Crist to debate him. Rubio has positioned himself as a conservative standard bearer, although the Crist campaign has sought in recent weeks to chip away at that image on issues from taxes to immigration to guns.

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