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Florida: Is the Governor's Race Back in Play?

For the last few months the Florida governor's race has not made The Fix's regular ranking of the 15 most-competitive gubernatorial races in the country.

Rep. Jim Davis
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jim Davis talks to voters during an Oct. 21 campaign swing through Fort Lauderdale. (AP Photo)

Omitting Florida was a decision based on conversations with party strategists on both sides of the aisle, but it drew considerable criticism from Fix fanatics who wondered how I could leave off such a high-profile, open-seat contest.

A new poll from Quinnipiac University suggests the critics may have been right. It shows that the race between state Attorney General Charlie Crist (R) and Rep. Jim Davis (D) has tightened considerably.

Crist still leads Davis 46 percent to 44 percent, but that is down considerably from 53 to 43 percent bulge the Republican enjoyed just two weeks ago.

"It took Jim Davis a while to introduce himself to Florida voters, but he seems to have broken through and made a positive impression on many Floridians to whom he was until recently an unknown," said Peter Brown, assistant director at Quinnipiac's polling institute.

Davis has narrowed the gap thanks to a big change in how independents say they intend to vote. Davis held a 50 percent to 36 percent edge among independents in the newest Quinnipiac poll. Earlier this month, the same poll showed Crist holding a 50 percent to 43 percent edge among independents.

Much of those gains are likely due to a steady television presence for Davis. Many of those people who identify as independents are likely to be Democratic-leaning voters who were looking for a reason to come home to their party's nominee. Given the size of Florida, a sustained media campaign was the only way for Davis to coalesce those voters behind him.

Attorney General Charlie Crist
GOP candidate Charlie Crist and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen engage in a classic political pose during a campaign trip to Doral last Wednesday. (AP Photo)

Republicans acknowledge that the race may have tightened slightly but insist internal polling shows Crist with a high single-digit or low-double digit edge. Crist has one other ace in the hole -- a huge fundraising edge. To date, he has collected more than $17 million for his race; Davis has taken in more than $5 million.

In a state where television advertising plays such a major role, this large financial gap makes it hard for Davis to match Crist in the air wars. For the Democrat to win, he needs the toxic national political environment to heavily impact the election -- the "R" after Crist's name must turn into a political scarlet letter.

That's possible, but not very likely. Crist remains the favorite on Nov. 7.

By Chris Cillizza  |  October 23, 2006; 3:46 PM ET
Categories:  Governors  
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