Tallahassee, FL - Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson goes into his bid for a third term with 45 percent of the Florida electorate approving of his job performance and 43 percent saying he should be re-elected, a poll released Thursday suggests.
In a survey asking about a hypothetical match-up with a yet-to-be determined Republican conducted by Connecticut-based Quinnipiac University, Nelson drew 41 percent to the GOP’s 36 percent. The university surveyed 1,160 registered voters.
The poll also found that a majority of Florida voters thought the federal health care law should be repealed, by a 50-43 margin.
Quinnipiac University Polling Director Peter Brown said the numbers painted a mixed picture for Nelson, who already faces an announced challenge from Senate President Mike Haridopolos. Former short-term U.S. Sen. George LeMieux and former state House Majority Leader Adam Hasner, R-Delray Beach, also are considered possible candidates, as is U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, R-Cape Coral.
“Only one in five voters is unhappy with his job performance, which indicates he hasn’t stirred up strong opposition,” Brown said. “But history shows that when only 43 percent of voters say an incumbent deserves another term, that incumbent sometimes doesn’t get another term.”
The poll showed Nelson may rise and fall as President Barack Obama does in Florida in 2012. Forty-six percent said Nelson shares Obama’s views, while 47 percent said they approved of Obama’s performance at the halfway mark of his first term. Forty-two percent of respondents say they’d back a Republican challenger to Obama when he runs again in 2012, even though they don’t know who that challenger might be.
“Sen. Nelson is not in terrific shape but he is not in terrible shape either,” Brown said. “His fate may rest with how President Barack Obama does in 2012 as Florida voters see the two men similarly on the issues.”
But Florida Democratic Party spokesman Eric Jotkoff said the Quinnipiac poll was based on the electorate of last year. Nelson will be running in a presidential year, when turnout will be much higher, Jotkoff said, pointing out that Florida typically has more registered Democrats than Republicans.
“In looking through the numbers provided by Quinnipiac, it’s clear that they’re still using the assumption that is brought from the 2010 election rather than looking forward to what the electorate could be in 2012,” he said. “Even with skewing overly Republican, it still shows Bill Nelson is in strong shape to win re-election, which is great news for Florida Democrats.”
Predictably, the other party sees it differently.
“He’s starts out in a weak position,” said GOP strategist Matt Williams, who managed former Attorney General Bill McCollum’s unsuccessful campaign for governor. “Any time an incumbent, especially an incumbent finishing up his second term, is under 50 percent, he’s usually considered vulnerable. It’s a long time to November of 2012, but that’s not a good position to start, given what we just saw last November.”
Williams added that the Quinnipiac numbers for Nelson could convince the Republicans eyeing his seat to get their campaigns started earlier.
“Given the candidates that are hinting around at it, it’s going to be a pretty large Republican field,” he said. “It takes a while to raise money and put together the grassroots support that you need first to win a primary, then to roll over to a general.”
However, Nelson starts out in better position than former Republican U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez did in Quinnipiac’s first survey of the 2010 cycle. Shortly after garnering a 37 percent approval rating, Martinez announced he would not seek re-election, touching off a two-year campaign that resulted in the election of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.
Now Florida’s junior senator, Rubio has a 42 percent job approval rating after his first month on the job, the Quinnipiac poll found.