In one of the most competitive Senate contests in the nation, Democrat Bill Nelson is in for the tightest race of his U.S. Senate career against Rep. Connie Mack, two new polls show.
Mack leads Nelson by 1 percentage point — essentially a tie — in Quinnipiac University’s latest poll. But Nelson leads Mack by 4 points — close to a tie — in a Marist College survey released along with Quinnipiac’s survey on Thursday.
The two polls differ in their results because they have different methods of gauging the electorate. The Marist poll could have over-represented Democrats by about 3 percentage points and the Quinnipiac poll could have under-sampled Democrats by a wider margin.
But pollsters agree the race is pretty much a tie and that the numbers will change.
“This is a slugfest,” said Marist College pollster Lee Miringoff. “Stay tuned.”
The Marist poll, which has a 3-point error margin, shows Nelson over Mack by a 46-42 percent spread.
Quinnipiac’s poll shows Mack over Nelson by a 42-41 percent spread. That’s well within the poll’s 2.4-point error margin. But it bodes badly for Nelson, said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of Quinnipiac’s polling institute.
“If I were Bill Nelson, I’d be a very unhappy camper,” Brown said. “He’s an incumbent and he’s only got 41 percent.”
Nelson has been nicknamed one of the luckiest Democrats in Florida for facing the highly unpopular former Secretary of State Katherine Harris in 2006. He was first elected to the Senate in 2000, a Democrat-heavy year.
An exceedingly cautious campaigner, Nelson champions highly popular causes — like BP oil-spill clean up — and has a knack for avoiding the spotlight on controversial issues, like the president’s healthcare plan.
In a sign of Nelson’s relatively low profile, the Quinnipiac poll found that nearly a third of Florida voters don’t know enough about him to form an opinion. About 39 percent view him favorably and 28 percent unfavorably.
Half of the poll respondents didn’t know enough of Mack. About 32 percent view him favorably and 16 percent unfavorably.
Mack’s name, though, is well-known. His father was a popular U.S. Senator and his great-grandfather was a baseball legend.
As a result, Mack is crushing his Republican rivals in the Republican primary. He garners 40 percent of the Republican vote compared to 7 percent for former Sen. George LeMieux and 8 percent for businessman Mike McCalister, the Quinnipiac poll finds.
LeMieux accused Mack of “running a campaign of deception” to “trick voters into believing he’s his father.”
Mack’s campaign, pointing to Thursday’s poll, said it’s proof that Republican voters are rejecting LeMieux’s negative message. The poll, however, indicates LeMieux is simply far less-known than Mack and that he’s viewed unfavorably by only 5 percent of Republicans — about the same as Mack.
Mack matches up better against Nelson than LeMieux in the Quinnipiac poll.
Nelson’s fate is largely tied to President Obama, who was losing to his Republican rival by a far bigger margin in Quinnipiac’s poll the day before, 6 points. And president Obama’s fate is likely tied to the performance of the economy.
Both polls show Florida voters are pessimistic about the economy improving. Nearly 60 percent of Florida voters think the economy is on the wrong track, the Marist poll found.
“If unemployment were 6 percent in Florida, this election would be over and the Democrats would probably win,” said Brown. “It’s not the number that matters. It’s how people feel. And they feel it’s not getting much better.”