Is Charlie Crist The De Facto Democrat In The Florida Senate Race?

In the two months since Gov. Charlie Crist began building up to and ultimately did switch from Republican to independent, he appears to have overtaken Rep. Kendrick Meek as the de-facto Democratic candidate in the race against Republican Marco Rubio, according to the polls.

Instead of becoming the alternative to the two Republicans in the race, Meek seems to have suffered the most from Crist’s entrance in the race as an independent. Crist’s presence has siphoned off votes from Meek, poll show, and threatens to leave the Democrats’ own presumptive nominee with too little oxygen. Meek’s hopes of being the clear alternative to Rubio are fading.

When asked for comment about their decline in support, Meek campaign communications director Adam Sharon predicted that Crist’s surge among Democratic-leaning voters would not last, declaring that “his conservative record cannot escape him.”The TPM Poll Average for the race current has Crist at 32.9%, Rubio 32.7%, and Meek 15.9%. Furthermore, the graph shows a clear trend in the last two months, of Meek’s support falling and Crist’s rising by a nearly identical amount.

In the new Ipsos/Miami Herald poll, Crist was leading Meek among Dem voters, by a margin of 38%-33%. A Mason-Dixon poll from two weeks ago also had Crist ahead of Meek among Democratic voters by 48%-36%.

Crist has been reaching out of late to the traditionally-leaning labor union constituency. In mid-April, he vetoed a high-profile education bill supported by the state’s Republicans, which would have eliminated tenure for new teachers and instituted strict guidelines for merit pay. The move seemingly clinched his party switch, which came about two weeks later.

However, the labor outreach has had mixed results so far — he scored a dual-endorsement from the Florida Education Association, but the AFL-CIO went solely for Meek.

In addition, Crist has been hinting at a veto of an anti-abortion bill, calling it “mean-spirited.” In addition, he now has a Democratic strategist on board his campaign, recruiting Eric Johnson, a former chief of staff to liberal Democratic ex-Congressman Robert Wexler, to adviser his South Florida campaign.

The Meek campaign brushed off the polling trends as a temporary development. “Governor Crist is enjoying the afterglow of his political opportunistic decision, but he remains wrong on issues that matter to Democrats and progressives,” said Sharon. “The support he enjoys will not last, and as most public pollsters have written, Governor Crist is sitting on a proverbial house of cards.”

Rubio began the race as the insurgent conservative in the Republican primary against Crist, but eventually built up a prohibitive lead in the polls as a result of Crist’s support for President Obama’s stimulus bill — ultimately triggering Crist’s switch to independent. Meek is the heavy favorite to win the Democratic primary on August 24, though he must first overcome challenges by former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferré and wealthy businessman and ex-Republican Jeff Greene.