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New Rasmussen poll: Marco Rubio 37%, Charlie Crist 30%, Kendrick Meek 22%

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If Florida Governor Charlie Crist leaves the Republican Party and enters the U.S. Senate race as an independent candidate, he will begin the campaign in second place.

The latest Rasmussen Reports poll of Florida voters finds that 37% would vote for GOP frontrunner Marco Rubio, 30% for Crist and 22% for the likely Democratic nominee Kendrick Meek. That’s much closer than amonth ago when Rubio had a 17-point advantage and Crist was in third place.

In a two-way race, both Rubio and Crist hold solid leads over Meek.

Rubio now leads among Republicans and unaffiliated voters with Crist in second. Among Democrats, Meek earns 46% support, while Crist picks up 33% of the Democratic vote.

Meek leads among voters under 30, Crist leads among 30-somethings, and Rubio leads among those 40 and older.

Crist in recent days has made it clear he’s seriously considering an independent candidacy and also vetoed an education bill that was strongly supported by Republican legislators. Fifty-six percent (56%) of voters now approve of the way Crist is handling his job, up 11 points from a month ago. It’s significant to note that the governor gets higher ratings from Democrats and unaffiliated voters than he does from Republicans.

Still, voters are closely divided over what Crist should do next. Thirty-seven percent (37%) say he should launch an independent bid, 30% disagree, and 33% are not sure. Fifty-three percent (53%) of Republicans say he should not take such a step, while 50% of Democrats say he should. Among those not affiliated with either major party, 41% favor an independent run, and 28% are opposed.

Crist has been losing support steadily in the Republican Primary and trailed 57% to 28% in the most recent Rasmussen Reports poll of the race.

Thirty percent (30%) of voters see Crist as politically conservative, while 44% see him as a moderate. Eighteen percent (18%) view him as politically liberal.

Sixty-six percent (66%) see Rubio as a conservative, while 43% say Meek is politically liberal. Like most states, Florida has more conservatives than liberals. A majority consider themselves either moderate or somewhat conservative.

Fifty-six percent (56%) of voters have voted for an independent candidate in the past. Thirty-nine percent (39%) say that the Republican and Democratic parties are so much alike that a third party is needed.

Rubio wins 65% of the vote from those who consider themselves part of the Tea Party Movement. He also wins 67% of the vote from those who Strongly Disapprove of the way that President Obama is performing his job. Nearly half (46%) of voters offer such strong disapproval of the president.

Among those who Strongly Approve of the president’s performance, 44% prefer Meek, while 35% are ready to vote for Crist. Just 33% of voters strongly approve.

Crist leads among those who don’t have strong feelings one way or the other about the president’s performance. Nineteen percent (19%) of voters fall into that category. The governor ran into trouble among Republicans for his support of Obama’s stimulus package and a photo of him hugging the president.

The Justice Department is now investigating alleged financial irregularities in the state Republican Party that include questions about Rubio’s use of a party credit card. Just prior to the announcement of that probe, 40% of likely Florida Republican Primary voters said the Justice Department should investigate the allegations of financial wrongdoing within the state party. Twenty-three percent (23%) were opposed, and 37% more are undecided.

Earlier polling shows that the president’s recently signed health care law remains unpopular in Florida. Fifty-four percent (54%) of Florida voters favor their state suing the federal government to stop the health care plan. Thirty-six percent (36%) oppose such a lawsuit. Throughout the debate on health care legislation, senior citizens were more likely than any other age group to oppose the president’s plans.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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