Poll says Rubio gaining on Crist for Senate

Turning a romp into a race, U.S. Senate contender Marco Rubio has cut Gov. Charlie Crist's lead in half in a new Quinnipiac University poll.

Crist, who surpassed Rubio by 29 points in an August survey, now leads 50-35 percent in the contest for Florida's open Senate seat, according to the survey released Wednesday.

îîHis margin is still formidable, but obviously Marco Rubio's focus on convincing Republican conservatives that he, not Crist, is their kind of guy is bearing fruit,'' said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

The former House speaker who is little known outside of Miami-Dade has been doing the Republican club circuit for months, while Crist is just starting to ramp up. He began airing a radio ad in Southwest Florida last week, and his chief of staff stepped down Tuesday to begin working as campaign manager.

Crist received the worst job approval rating since his 2006 election. But at 59 percent, he is doing better than many other governors struggling with state budgets ransacked by the recession.

In the governor's race, Republican Bill McCollum's higher profile and better job approval ratings help him edge out Democrat Alex Sink 36-32 percent. His biggest geographic advantage is in Central Florida.

"McCollum retains a lead, but almost a quarter of the electorate is undecided, giving Ms. Sink plenty of opportunity with 13 months until Election Day,'' Brown said.

McCollum easily overtakes a potential primary rival, Republican state Sen. Paula Dockery of Lakeland, 43-7 percent.

Just days before President Barack Obama makes his second trip to Florida, his approval rating has inched up to 48 percent in the past two months.

In other potential Senate matchups, Crist beats Democratic front-runner Kendrick Meek 51-31 percent. Meek beats Rubio 36-33 percent.

The survey of 1,078 voters Oct. 12-18 has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.