Rick Scott may be leading Charlie Crist, but not just for the reasons you think

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At this point, there’s probably no denying that Republican incumbent Rick Scott has taken a narrow lead over his likely Democratic challenger, Charlie Crist.

According to the most recent poll by SurveyUSA for Tampa Bay’s News Channel 8, Scott leads Crist with 42 percent of voter support, compared to 40 percent for Crist. Nine percent of respondents indicated they would be voting for a third party and eight percent were undecided.

These numbers are in addition to a survey from McLauglin and Associates showing Scott leading Crist 42 to 38 percent. And in April, a poll commissioned by Sunshine State News showed Scott with a slight lead over the former governor.

Yes, two of these three polls are from right-leaning outfits, but even in the poll in which I place the most faith — commissioned by a statewide business group — has Crist only leading Scott by one percent.

The conventional wisdom is that Scott has overtaken Crist for two reasons: a) Scottworld — the Florida GOP, Scott’s political committee, and Scott’s campaign — have spent as much as $8 million in television advertising to batter Crist; and b) conservatives and Republicans are, concurrent with or subsequent to the ad barrage, are “coming home” to Scott.

Polling outfits SurveyUSA and McLauchlan and Associates have not provided the crosstabs for their polls and, without them, it’s impossible to nail down where Scott is gaining ground or where Crist is losing it. But, again, as Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald supposes, “it’s likely among Republicans and conservative independents.”

Or is it?

If you look at the crosstabs of the poll commissioned by the statewide business group (which had Scott down by four in February and down by one in May), you’ll see both Crist and Scott holding on to 80 percent of their respective party bases. So, indeed, now that Scott and Crist are equally strong with their core voters, the race is tied.

Yet, what’s also in this poll is a very interesting number — one that could prove advantageous to Governor Scott. Forty percent of Floridians think the state is on the “right track,” up from just 34 percent in the February poll. Mind you, 47 percent of Floridians think the state is headed in the wrong direction. But it’s hard to separate Scott’s improvement in this poll from the increased number of Floridians who believe the state is moving in the right direction.

Yeah, yeah, this is probably correlative rather than causal, but having spoken to the pollster who conducted the survey for the business group, this is not a bad assumption to make.

Assuming this conclusion is true — that Scott’s gains are based as much on voters feeling better about the state of the state as they are on Scottworld’s attacks on Crist — this could be very troublesome for Crist’s campaign. That’s because it puts Crist in the position of having to be a cynic, instead of just negative about Scott. Crist would have to tell voters that they’re wrong about how they feel about Florida — and that’s something with which Crist, the eternal optimist — would never be comfortable.

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.