Scott vs. Crist in Florida: Libertarian Factor Poses Toss-Up

A barrage of negative ads have helped Florida Gov. Rick Scott narrow the gap against challenger Charlie Crist, according to a poll released today by Quinnipiac University. The tone of the race may also be driving voters toward a little-known Libertarian candidate, who could claim enough votes to swing the election.

Scott, a one-term Republican, trails Crist, a former Republican governor running as a Democrat, by 45 to 40 percentage points in a head-to-head matchup, the poll found. When Libertarian candidate Adrian Wyllie is added to the mix, he claims 9 percent of the vote, and Crist’s lead over Scott narrows to 39 to 37. That’s essentially a toss-up, according to the poll.

“Scott and Crist have been saturating the airwaves with negative ads about each other,”’ Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said in a statement. “An old campaign maxim holds that you can’t throw mud without getting dirty yourself and that seems to be what’s happening here.”

Even as 92 percent of voters say they don’t know enough about Wyllie to form an opinion, Brown says he could siphon off a large chunk of the vote because of “how unhappy voters are with the major party choices.”

In last year’s Virginia governor’s race, Libertarian Robert Sarvis claimed 6.5 percent of the vote, less than a month after bickering between Republicans and Democrats in Washington forced a government shutdown. Democrat Terry McAuliffe won the race by about 2 percentage points.

In Florida, the squabbling appears to be hurting Crist more than Scott. Negative ratings for Crist have increased since the last Quinnipiac poll on the race in April, which showed Crist favored over Scott by 10 points. That has coincided with a $15 million ad blitz by Scott. Many of Scott’s ads target Crist, who was governor from 2007 to 2011, as a “slick politician’’ and “lousy.’’

Crist and Florida’s Democratic Party have also aired ads slamming Scott, who has suffered from negative approval ratings since taking office in 2011.

Voters have soured on both candidates.

Only 43 percent of voters hold a favorable view of Scott, compared with 48 percent of voters who have an unfavorable opinion. Crist is seen favorably by 40 percent of voters, while 43 see him unfavorably. Voters give both candidates low scores on character issues such as on issues of honesty, trustworthiness and empathy.

The poll of 1,251 registered voters was conducted from July 17-21, with a margin of error of 2.8 percentage points.

The negative ads are likely to continue, as both candidates are stockpiling enough money to make this race the most expensive in Florida’s history. The Republican Governors Association has already given more than $6 million to aid Scott’s re-election.

Voters in Florida have been barraged with television ads hitting Crist over his stewardship of the economy while he was governor during the recession. Crist left the party during a failed Senate bid against Marco Rubio, Crist running as an independent, and later became a Democrat. He spoke for President Barack Obama at his 2012 renomination convention. He faces former state Sen. Nan Rich in a primary next month.

Voters have also seen Scott on television—mostly as the punchline of jokes on cable news shows, which have seized on the governor’s refusal to answer questions from reporters.

When asked about a gay marriage ruling in Florida last week, Scott declined to give an answer, then pivoted to his favorite topic.

“Let’s talk about jobs,’’ he said.


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