- By George Bennett Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Helped by more than $7 million in TV ads in the last month, Florida Gov. Rick Scott has moved to a slight lead in his campaign to unseat Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, according to a new Florida Atlantic University poll that finds approval of President Donald Trump’s job performance ticking upward in the state to 43 percent.
The FAU Business and Economics Polling Initiative survey to be released Wednesday morning also points to wide open races for the gubernatorial nominations in both the Republican and Democratic parties, with more than 40 percent of voters in each party undecided.
In the U.S. Senate race, Scott leads Nelson, 44 percent to 40 percent, among registered Florida voters in a poll conducted Friday through Monday with a 3 percent margin of error. Among those who say they’re likely to vote, Scott holds a 45.3-to-44.8 edge.
Most public polls have shown a close Senate race between Nelson and Scott. An FAU poll in early February showed Scott with a 10-point lead over Nelson. But when FAU polled the race again in late February after the Parkland massacre, Nelson held a 40-to-38 percent lead.
Scott has been expected to challenge Nelson for more than a year, but he did not formally launch a campaign until April 9. Since then, Scott’s campaign has spent about $5 million on statewide TV ads, including $1 million on Spanish-language spots. A pro-Scott super PAC has also spent $2.4 million on ads slamming Nelson as a “career politician” and urging voters to “term limit Bill Nelson and make Washington work for us.”
Trump carried Florida in 2016 with 49 percent to 47.8 percent for Democrat Hillary Clinton. In FAU’s latest poll, 43 percent of Florida voters approve of the president’s job performance and 45 percent disapprove. That’s up from 41 percent approval in February and is the highest approval score FAU has measured in Florida since Trump took office. In February 2017, an FAU poll showed Trump’s approval in the state at 34 percent, with 66 percent disapproving.
While most Florida voters have opinions about Scott, Nelson and Trump, large numbers of Republicans and Democrats remain undecided about the candidates running for governor.
In the GOP race, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam are virtually tied at 16 percent and 15 percent, respectively, with 43 percent undecided. The poll did not ask about potential candidate Richard Corcoran, the speaker of the Florida House, and found political unknown David Adams getting 8 percent in the GOP primary.
Putnam recently began airing TV ads for the race while DeSantis has been a frequent guest on Fox News programs and got a supportive tweet from Trump in December.
The Democratic primary for governor is similarly up for grabs, with former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham in a virtual tie with 16 percent and 15 percent. Winter Park businessman Chris King gets 10 percent and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum 6 percent. Forty-two percent of Democrats say they are undecided.
Levine is the only Democratic candidate in the governor’s race who has launched a TV campaign, first going on the air in November. His campaign and a pro-Levine PAC have spent about $8 million on TV ads so far.