PPP poll: Bill Nelson 45%, Connie Mack 43%

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PPP’s newest look at the Florida Senate race finds that the bombardment of negative advertising against Bill Nelson is taking a toll. Only 35% of voters approve of him now to 40% who disapprove, and in a hypothetical contest with Connie Mack IV he leads just 45-43.

This is PPP’s first Florida poll using likely voters so it’s not a direct comparison to our previous surveys. But either way Nelson’s lead is down quite a bit from margins of 10 and 13 points the previous two times we looked at the state this year.

The biggest thing contributing to Nelson’s poor approval numbers is tepid support from the Democratic base. Only 50% of voters within his party approve of the job he’s doing to 24% who disapprove. That’s down from an already somewhat weak 58/15 spread in early June. In a head to head with Mack Nelson leads just 73-14 with Democrats where he previously had an 81-10 advantage.It’s clear Democrats are not that enthusiastic about Nelson- it’s just a question of whether that will really extend to there being a lot of Obama/Mack voters in the end. Nelson’s one Senate candidate who definitely shouldn’t run away from Obama in terms of campaign appearances, given the tepid feelings for him from the party base.

The other place where we’ve seen a big shift since our last poll is with independents. Where previously Nelson had a 48-28 advantage with them, now Mack is ahead by a 45/38 margin.

The tightening of this race shouldn’t be taken as much of an endorsement of Mack. Only 25% of voters have a favorable opinion of him to 35% with an unfavorable one. He is a pretty weak candidate for the Republicans and just like in the Presidential race you wonder where this contest would be if the GOP had a stronger candidate, given how poor Nelson’s approval numbers are.

Mack continues to look like an overwhelming favorite in the Republican primary. He’s at 47% to 14% for Dave Weldon and 10% for Mike McCalister with 29% of voters either undecided or planning to vote for one of the minor candidates in the race. A lot of Mack’s big advantage simply comes down to name recognition. 66% of primary voters are familiar with him compared to only 24% for Weldon and 21% for McCalister. Weldon’s running out of time to get voters familiar with him and make it possible for him to close the gap.

Mack is such an overwhelming favorite that the other general election match ups hardly seem worth mentioning but Nelson would have wider leads over McCalister (45-40) and Weldon (46-39) if one of them was somehow to become the nominee.

We have generally found Bill Nelson running well ahead of Barack Obama in Florida. With this poll that’s no longer the case and it’s looking more like the undercard in the Sunshine State will be worth watching this fall as well.

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.