By BRANDON LARRABEE
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
One of the most closely watched governor’s races in the country seems to be morphing back into a traditional political battle, based on a new Quinnipiac University poll that shows Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Charlie Crist tied two weeks before the election.
Men are backing Scott, the Republican incumbent, while women are going with Crist, his Democratic challenger. Independents are almost split down the middle. And who shows up on Nov. 4 could matter as much as anything else in deciding whether Scott wins a second term or Crist becomes the first Democrat to win a governor’s race in 20 years.
“Interestingly, when this race began … one of the themes was, ‘Oh this will be a unique race because you have two governors running against each other,’ ” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll. “Well, in fact, in some ways this race is just like a number of others around the country.”
One of the things that still stands out about the race is its closeness: Scott and Crist are each at 42 percent of the vote among likely voters, according to the survey. Libertarian Adrian Wyllie is at 7 percent. That’s not wildly different from most recent polls, which show Scott or Crist tied, or give one candidate a small lead well within the margin of error.
But some of the preconceptions about the race have fallen away. Might Crist, a former Republican, draw a large portion of GOP voters to his side? According to Quinnipiac’s numbers, Crist is getting the support of 7 percent of Republican voters.
“I think it’s highly unlikely that Crist is getting much of the Republican vote,” Brown said.
Could Crist’s likability give him an edge over Scott, who has been unpopular basically since he took office? Both candidates are more disliked than liked among voters.
Instead, the race looks increasingly like it will come down to what determines so many midterm elections: who votes.
“This election will be won by the candidate whose organization is the best at turnout,” Brown said. “They’re dead even.”
There is one wild card still in the race: Can Wyllie hold onto the fraction of voters who are going his way? And if not, does that benefit Scott or Crist?
Right now, 90 percent or more of those who support Crist or Scott say they’ll stick with their decision until Election Day. Only 78 percent of Wyllie voters say the same thing — and the other 22 percent could be critical when there’s almost literally no separation between the two major-party candidates.
When Wyllie voters were asked for the second choice in the race and the result was recalculated, Scott and Crist were once again tied, this time at 44 percent apiece.
“Obviously, he’s not going to be the next governor,” Brown said of Wyllie. “But what happens to the 7 percent who say they’re going to vote for him could well tell the tale of the entire election.”
The campaigns themselves said almost nothing about the polls. Asked for a response, a spokesman for Scott’s campaign reiterated some of the incumbent’s regular talking points.
“Charlie Crist is a career politician who takes zero responsibility for anything that happened under his watch — including 832,000 jobs lost when he was governor,” Scott spokesman Greg Blair wrote in an email. “We’ll continue sharing that message with Floridians all the way until Election Day.”
A Crist campaign spokesman declined to comment.
“It can’t get any closer,” Brown said. “We’ve got less than two weeks to go, and it’s obviously anybody’s race.”