Tampa Bay Times serves up an outside-the-margin lead for Rick Scott in its latest poll; is this the darkest day for Charlie Crist campaign?

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With sixty-two days before the election, the Tampa Bay Times and its partners at Bay News 9 and the University of Florida’s Bob Graham Center have served up a poll that gives incumbent Republican Rick Scott an outside-the-margin-of-error lead over Democrat Charlie Crist.

As much as I shook my fist at the poll on Twitter, there is no denying the power of this poll. A poll from the Tampa Bay Times will be picked up by all of the tip sheets from POLITICO, the National Journal, etc. A poll from the Tampa Bay Times will be cited by all of the national journalists who have or will parachute into the state to cover the last two months of the campaign. A poll from the Tampa Bay Times showing Rick Scott with a five point lead will have Crist’s volunteers deciding to sleep in and his donors putting their checkbooks back in the drawer.

A poll from the Tampa Bay Times showing Scott leading Crist 41 to 36 percent could make this the darkest day to date for the Crist campaign. Of course, no one inside the campaign will say that. They can’t say that!

The campaign is not staring into the abyss, but the abyss is calling out for it to be stared into. It will be very telling to see how Cristworld does or does not react to this poll.

Some top Crist strategists will concede off the record that they expected to be down two or three points coming out of Labor Day … that Scott’s mostly unanswered attacks on Crist would have the kind of effect realized in this and other polls. But it’s doubtful these strategists thought Crist would be down five points in a legitimate poll.

The real challenge for Crist is not just having to close the gap, but having to close the gap in such a short period of time. Sure, Election Day is 62 days away, but hundreds of thousands of ballots will start to be mailed to early voters in about a month. Crist needs to win back a point a week from Scott starting this week.

Of course, this is only a dark day for the Crist campaign if it believes in this poll’s results. There is a lot to take issue with.

Start with the Times‘ sample: Republicans 35 percent, Democrats 30 percent, and Independents 26 percent. That’s a point or two off in each category and all towards the Republican. One of the most respected minds in Florida politics just told me yesterday he is expecting a 3.9 percent GOP turnout advantage — and nowhere near that high of a turnout for so-called Independents.

Another flaw as subtle as a diamond’s: Fewer than 12 percent of Republican voters said they are backing Crist, while nearly 15 percent of likely Democratic voters said they supported Scott. That’s just not going to happen. In fact, I expect the opposite to happen — Crist will pick up more Republicans than Scott picks up Democrats. 

But that’s just a prediction of mine; again, me shaking my fist at this poll does no one any good.

Better to remember that the Tampa Bay Times polling had Mitt Romney winning Florida by six points, Alex Sink winning the CD 13 special election by seven points, and Bob Buckhorn and Rick Kriseman both in third place in their respective races.

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.