In what is likely to be one of the most closely-watched gubernatorial races next year, new Democrat Charlie Crist leads incumbent Gov. Rick Scott.
According to a new Quinnipiac University poll, Crist leads Scott by seven points in the Florida governor's race, 47%-40% -- but Scott has been steadily closing the gap over the past year.
Crist -- who is now vying for his old job -- has seen his lead dwindle from 16 points in March and 10 points in June. That said, voters don't head to the polls for another 12 months.
The bitter contest between Crist, the former Republican governor-turned-independent-turned Democrat, and the wealthy Scott is expected to be the most expensive and bitter of the 2014 cycle. Scott, who's seen his approval ratings plunge in the Sunshine State, has pledged to spend as much as $25 million to attack Crist. And while Crist's party switching amid his 2010 Senate run will be an issue, Republicans seem poised to make the fact that he "bailed" on the state during a financial crisis another charge against giving him a second chance.
But Scott will have to overcome his own weaknesses before focusing on Crist's.
In the new poll, 47% say they disapprove of the job Scott is doing as governor compared to just 42% who approve. Fifty-three percent say Scott doesn't deserve to be re-elected, including 56% of independents, 57% of women, 49% of men, and even 20% of Republicans.
Looking back at Crist's one term as governor, 53% say they approve of the job he did, compared to 36% who disapprove. Crist also has a narrow edge among Independent voters, 44%-41%. Scott is only getting 80% of Republicans while 11% say they would back Crist. Voters are evenly divided on whether Crist's party change was a positive or negative.
While Crist faces skepticism within his own party, he's still holding together a strong coalition -- 86% of Democrats say they would back him compared to just 4% who would break for Scott. And a primary with Democrat Nan Rich, his only announced opponent so far, he trounces the state senator, 60%-12%.
“Voters currently think Crist was a good governor and are evenly split on whether they see his party switching as evidence he is a pragmatist or lacks core beliefs. To catch Crist, Scott is going to have to convince Florida voters that Crist was a bad governor and a political opportunist," said Quinnipiac assistant polling director Peter Brown. “And he is planning on spending tens of millions of dollars on television adds to make that argument. This will be an intensely negative campaign on both sides. The survivor will be the candidate voters dislike least on Election Day.”
The Quinnipiac poll surveyed 1,646 registered voters from November 12-17 for a margin of error of +/- 2.4%.