Marc Caputo

Marc Caputo: Rick Scott’s ‘awful’ poll numbers make Florida Republicans queasy

The state of Gov. Rick Scott’s poll numbers is . . . sorry.

On Tuesday, as Scott kicked off the Legislature’s 60-day lawmaking session, he gave the annual state of the state speech, a campaign-like preview filled with job-creation statistics.

But many of Scott’s fellow Republicans were paying attention to a different set of numbers: a raft of poll data-points that make the GOP queasy because it shows Democrat Charlie Crist has broad support across Florida right now. The highlights:

• 34 percentage points — the margin Crist beats Scott by in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, according to one business interest’s statewide survey. This margin is 12 points greater than Democrat Alex Sink’s in the 2010 governor’s race. If she had earned Crist’s poll numbers in just these two counties, Sink would have won.

• 10 percentage points — the margin Crist beats Scott by in another business interest’s statewide poll.

• 8 percentage points — the margin Crist beats Scott by in two other business interests’ statewide polls.

• 7 percentage points — the margin Crist beats Scott by in a fourth business interest’s statewide poll.

• 6 percentage points — the margin Crist beats Scott by in a poll of Republican-controlled state House districts across Florida.

• 4 percentage points — the margin Crist beats Scott by in North Florida, a Republican stronghold. The number is well within the poll’s error margin. But it’s a cumulative 17-point shift in favor of Democrats compared to 2010, and Sink would have won the governor’s race with this North Florida margin.

• 2 percentage points — the margin Scott beats Crist by in a poll of Republican-controlled state Senate districts in North Florida. Again, it’s within the error margin. But again: If Sink had had this margin, she probably would have won the governor’s race.

• 1 percentage point — the margin Crist beats Scott by overall in that poll of Republican-controlled state Senate districts. The poll was paid for by the Republican Party of Florida.

That last number — compared to the others — might initially look like a spot of good news for Scott.

But the state Senate Republican seats are, on the whole, strongly GOP-leaning compared to the rest of Florida.

On a generic-ballot test, likely voters favored an unnamed Republican Senate candidate by 8 percentage points. But when asked about Crist and Scott, the voters favored the Democrat by a point. That’s a 9-point shift in Crist’s favor.

Crist also has a better image than Scott overall, with 48 percent having a favorable impression of the Democrat and 39 percent an unfavorable impression in these Republican-held seats.

Put another way: Crist has a favorability index of +9.

Scott’s index: only +1.

“There’s no way to sugarcoat this: It’s awful,” said a top Florida Republican, one of a dozen who provided or confirmed with the Miami Herald the crosstabs, presentations or individual slices of the above-mentioned polls, six in all, which were taken in advance of the lawmaking session. The Herald agreed to protect sources; they fear retribution from the governor’s office and campaign, which freezes out those perceived as naysayers or who aren’t yes-men.

Perversely, the leaking of unflattering poll numbers about Scott is an act of self-preservation by Republicans.

They know what Crist, a former Republican governor, has the power to do if he wins: Divert a major portion of special-interest campaign money to the Florida Democratic Party and away from the Republican Party, which currently controls the state House and Senate.

With Crist in the governor’s mansion, Republican lawmakers probably would face tougher races to maintain control of the Legislature. GOP consultants might have less high-priced work. Republican lobbyists get less of a cut as Democratic lobbyists increase in importance in the state Capitol.

There’s time for Scott to turn things around. For a time, late last year, it appeared Scott was closing the gap with Crist. But it no longer looks that way.

Still, it’s only March. Absentee ballots go out in October. Election Day is Nov. 4. That’s a lifetime away in politics. (And Crist still needs to win the Democratic primary against little-known and poorly funded Nan Rich).

Republicans want to see Scott’s ad campaign start soon. It’s likely to begin this month, perhaps contrasting the jobs gained on Scott’s watch vs. the jobs lost under Crist, who was governor in the depths of the recession from 2007 to 2011.

Scott — who has about $27 million on hand, the capacity to raise far more and substantial personal wealth — wants to spend $100 million to reverse his bad poll numbers. Crist needs at least half of what Scott will spend and is far behind Scott’s in-the-bank total.

But poll numbers can drive fund-raising, which drives ad buys in big and pricey Florida.

And amid the bad poll numbers, Scott’s contributions appeared to slack off last month compared to Crist’s. Crist pulled in $827,350 through his political committee. That’s almost five times the $184,257 raised during the same period by Scott’s committee.

The poll numbers should tighten and, judging by prior elections, this campaign could be a squeaker.

But the numbers now are what every insider sees.

And if the data don’t change soon, more Republicans will grow more concerned that the state of the state speech will be given next year by a Democrat for the first time since 1998.