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Poll: Marco Rubio ‘in catbird’s seat’ in U.S. Senate race

Republican Marco Rubio “is in the catbird’s seat” in the race for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat, with Gov. Charlie Crist stalled in second and Democrat Kendrick Meek lagging even further behind in third, according to a Mason-Dixon poll released Thursday. Rubio has pushed his lead to 15 percentage points, attracting 42 percent of voters, compared to 27 percent for Crist, who’s running as an independent, and 21 percent for Meek, the poll showed. Ten percent of voters remain undecided. If Rubio can stay above 40 percent, it will be difficult for Crist or Meek to catch him, said Mason-Dixon pollster Brad Coker. “Most Crist voters don’t seem likely to jump to Meek, and most Meek voters don’t appear ready to throw in with Crist,” Coker said. “The stand-off on the left and center makes it easy for Rubio to win simply by consolidating the base of conservative-leaning Florida voters.” Coker pointed out that the weakest GOP candidate for statewide office in recent years – failed U.S. Senate candidate Katherine Harris – drew 37 percent of the vote in 2006. “Given that fact, Rubio should have no problem keeping his support above 40 percent,” Coker said. “Rubio is in the catbird’s seat,” he concluded. The former Florida House speaker is the only candidate whose favorable ratings – 44 percent – exceed his unfavorables, 31 percent. Meek’s favorables and unfavorables are identical – 27 percent. Crist’s are 35 percent to 40 percent. The governor has suffered a stunning turnaround in the last 17 months. In May 2009, when he announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination, his favorable rating was 49 percent and his unfavorable rating only 15 percent. Crist abandoned the GOP in April when it became clear Rubio would handily beat him in a Republican primary. He has portrayed himself since then as a post-partisan problem solver, a candidate willing to take good ideas from either party. As such, Crist is attracting 36 percent of independent voters and 37 percent ofDemocrats. But Republicans have deserted him, with his support within the GOP standing at just 13 percent. Crist and Meek are fighting for many of the same voters and, so far, Crist is winning. Meek’s overall support in the new poll is 21 percent, down slightly from 23 percent in September. The South Florida congressman is getting just 42 percent of the Democratic vote, in part because many Democrats question his ability to win a statewide race against Rubio and have gravitated toward Crist. Meek’s campaign has insisted those Democrats will come home as Election Dayapproaches, but his support among party members actually dropped from 45 percent in September. Rubio is the beneficiary of the Crist-Meek squabble. He has steadily increased his overall support by consolidating Republicans behind him and peeling off independents from Crist. Mason-Dixon found 81 percent of Republicans and 35 percent of independents now support Rubio, who leads in every region of the state. For Rubio to be overtaken, independents would have to abandon him in droves or supporters of Crist and Meek would have to quickly switch camps. Coker called that “a long-shot at best.” That prospect is made even more unlikely given the fact that Rubio raised more than $5 million in the last three months. The poll interviewed 625 likely voters between Oct. 4 and 6. It has a margin of error of +/- 4 percentage points.

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