A couple of new, if problematic polls, find good news in the decline of Charlie Crist … for Kendrick Meek.
I’m not a huge fan of Public Policy Polling, due to their methodology (the robocall as opposed to the old fashioned human method,) which is why I didn’t go all crazy over their ‘blockbuster” Crist-Rubio release yesterday. And their new poll has a number of problematic elements, including the fact that the sample included more McCain voters (49%) than Obama voters (45%), when Obama won the state 51%-48% in 2008, and it flips the Florida electorate on its head, with 42% Republicans and 39% Democrats when almost exactly the opposite is true, according to the Florida Division of Elections, which gives the Dems a 42%-36% registration edge, with 22% Independents or “no party affiliated” voters. Oh, and the PPP sample is 56% female, though I think on average, women do out-vote men, but not by that much (in the 2008 exit polls, women made up 53% of the electorate.) And the PPP sample is way old, with 48% of respondents being 46-65 years old, versus 37% who were aged 45-64 in the ’08 exits (the PPP sample also contains half as many voters aged 18-29, at 15%, as voted in 2008.) And the poll puts Charlie Crist’s favorable rating at a paltry 35%, meaning Crist would have had to have dropped 17 percent from February, when even Republican leaning Rasmussen put him in the 50s. Not a good start.
All of that being said, I think one overarching conclusion in the PPP survey is on the money, and it is this: if Marco Rubio holds onto his lead and becomes the Republican nominee for the United States Senate from Florida, Democrats have a fighting chance to pick up the seat.
That’s a real, material change from the way things were when Charlie Crist was the expected nominee, and a virtual lock to hang on to the seat for the GOP (because of his ability to win significant crossover votes from Democrats,) and it puts the tea parties in exactly the position in Florida that they’ve been in race after race across the country: winning primaries and losing elections.
The prevailing winds in the Republican Party right now are blowing so strongly toward the hard right, even the fringe right, they’ve created a highly motivated, but marginalized base that’s much smaller in real numbers than the teabagger-obsessed media would have you believe. Rubio has positioned himself squarely in the wingnut camp, along with Jim DeMint, his ideological wonder-twin. Trouble is, I doubt DeMint could win a statewide election in Florida, where even Jeb Bush didn’t win as a hardcore conservative when he first ran for governor in 1994. On a statewide level, Florida tends to elect below the radar types like Bill Nelson and Alex Sink, center-right bon vivants like Crist, pragmatic-seeming conservatives like Jeb Bush or even crushing bores like Bill McCollum. Even in 2008, Obama won the state by taking advantage of a national wave of change-mania among independents, which spread from young people to excited African-Americans and Hispanics.
Rubio, however, is running so far to the right, he may be running right off a cliff. Even at this early juncture, he has put himself in a position where he won’t easily be able to tack to the middle during the general election, which is what you want to do to win in Florida (or almost anywhere outside the old Confederacy, Florida excepted.) Rubio’s base, which doesn’t really care about his misuse of donor money, or his total hypocrisy on earmarks, the stimulus, spa back waxes and the rest, isn’t in this for reality. They’re in it to “take the country back from the African,” and to stick it to the amorphous “lamestream media” that puts down their values, mocks them on SNL, and who “stole” the election from Sarah Palin (it’s too much cognitive dissonance for them to believe they just simply lost the election.) Rubio even gives them the bonus of being able to dress up their paranoid rage in an ethnic suit, daring the PC hoarde to ever again tag them as racist. As invested as these people are in the idea, rather than the reality, of Marco Rubio, they aren’t just going to stand by and let him tack to the center in the fall. Besides, Rubio has signed commitments to do things like “vote to repeal healthcare reform” in order to be blessed by the far right. If he tries to turn down the volume, he risks depressing his own turnout in November, by looking like the worst thing you can be in politics: a flip-flopper. In short: Marco Rubio is married to the mob.
So if Rubio becomes the nominee, Democrats who might otherwise have looked at Crist will be more likely to come home to Kendrick Meek. Independents will be more likely to look at the extremism of the Rubio message, and tack back to the Democrat, too, especially since Meek has defied the left wing base by running as a NASCAR moderate. In this particular race in this particular year, that quixotic strategy, and generally staying below the radar, may turn out to be a net plus for Kendrick. If it’s Rubio-Meek, the race will simply be a matter of which party can best crank up the turnout machine (admittedly, a harder task for Democrats, unless the base gets considerably more fired up than they are right now. Then again, dangling a Cuban Jim Demint in front of the base might just do the trick…)
Okay, with all of that said, let’s go to the poll:
An independent Charlie Crist bid for the US Senate would work to Marco Rubio’s advantage, because Crist would win more Democratic votes than Republican ones. In a hypothetical three way contest Rubio leads with 34% to 27% for Crist and 25% for Kendrick Meek. Crist gets 32% of the Democratic vote but only 18% of Republicans running as an independent. He also leads among independents with 35% to 24% for Rubio and 22% for Crist.
Next! I simply don’t buy that finding, and it flies in the face of the other polling, which I think more accurately reflects the fact that an Independent bid by Crist would help only one person: Charlie Criat. Moving on now … to the part of the poll I do agree with:
The general election scenario that would give Democrats the best chance at winning the seat is a straight on contest between Rubio and Meek. The Republican leads 44-39 in that match up, and because there are a lot more undecided Democrats (20%) than Republicans (12%) the race is realistically probably even closer than 5 points. Rubio benefits from a more unified party with 77% of Republicans already committed to voting for him compared to 67% of Democrats who say they’ll vote for Meek. But Meek leads 41-34 with independents, a very rare outcome in this political climate when independents are usually leaning strongly toward the GOP.
The part about more Democrats being undecided is I think accurate, just based on anecdotal evidence alone. I’m guessing some Florida Democrats who like the governor, are waiting to see if Crist pulls it off, and if he does, they’ll make a decision between him and Meek, a situation that would strip some of the drama out of the general election and make it more about personality. In that contest, I think you’ve got to give it to Crist, who universally known in the state, has run multiple contested campaigns, is seriously well funded and a natural politician. But if it’s Rubio, the decision, even for Dems on the left who aren’t exactly in love with Meek, will be much more cut and dried: vote for the Democrat or let Rubio walk into the Senate, dragging his crazy base behind him. For just about every Democrat, it wouldn’t even be close. Marco Rubio would be a great motivator, for Democrats. And I guarantee you there are orders of magnitude more Democrats in Florida than there are tea partiers. That’s not to say Meek would be a lock, but a head-to-head with Rubio would give him a very serious chance to win, because it would be a straightforward matter of turnout — something Florida Democrats suddenly find themselves being quite good at, especially when you consider their state party isn’t hemorrhaging misspent donor funds, and when you count the implanted Organizing for America operation left over from the 2008 campaign.
Meanwhile, an Insider Advantage poll, again, not a favorite, and this time with an even smaller sample size of just over 500 people, backs up PPP’s notion of a big time Rubio lead among Republicans. The one interesting thing in that poll: Black Republicans, all 3 of them, are still with Crist, overwhelmingly (80-plus percent.) They’re probably too scared to show up at those tea parties.