A new poll shows that the contest to replace Republican Marco Rubio in the Senate is wide open in both the Republican and Democratic Florida primaries. No candidate is winning a majority of the votes, and most have a large name recognition deficit.
The poll was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research from April 14 to April 16 of 800 registered Florida voters, 400 Republicans and 400 Democrats. Poll respondents were interviewed by phone, both landlines and cell phones, and quotas were used to balance voter turnout by county. The margin of error was +/- 5 percent.
Among Republican respondents, 20 percent said they would vote for former Attorney General Bill McCollum, 8 percent for Rep. David Jolly, 7 percent for Rep. Vern Buchanan, 5 percent for Rep. Tom Rooney, 4 percent for Rep. Ron DeSantis, 4 percent for Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera, 3 percent for former Sen. George LeMieux, and 1 percent for State Sen. Don Gaetz. Forty-eight percent are undecided.
The Democrats have far fewer people rumored to be interested in running for the Senate seat, but their primary contest is just as undecided. A large majority — 63 percent — of Democratic poll respondents were undecided. Some 23 percent supported Rep. Patrick Murphy, and 14 percent Alan Grayson.
Murphy has officially entered the race, and multiple news outlets are reporting that Grayson is inching closer to getting in as well. Grayson is a particularly divisive figure, and is going through a contentious divorce, but has the support of certain progressives within the Democratic Party, as Breitbart News reported.
With the exception of McCollum, all of the candidates from both parties have less than 50 percent name recognition, a substantial hurdle for these candidates to overcome. McCollum does have 75 percent name recognition, but has not been on a ballot since 2010, when he lost the Republican primary for governor to Rick Scott, who went on to win the general election.
As Breitbart News reported, Florida law will not allow Rubio to remain on the ballot for both President and Senate. Rubio announced he was running for president on April 13, and even though he could certainly delay the decision until closer to the May 2016 filing date for Senate, he has said that he will step aside to allow a new Republican candidate time to put together a strong campaign.
The time will be needed. Florida is a notoriously difficult state in which to run statewide. A demographically diverse state with ten major media markets, Florida is impossible to win without raising millions of dollars and a sharp campaign strategy; even then there are no guarantees.
It often takes a candidate more than one attempt to succeed statewide. A number of candidates have come back after a loss with enough name recognition to improve their chances to win a later attempt. “Run to lose to run to win” is a common saying about this strategy.
Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater (R-FL) was viewed as the frontrunner to replace Rubio, due to his recent back-to-back victories in 2010 and 2014 and strong fundraising network. However, earlier this month Atwater announced that he had decided to complete his full four year term as CFO and not enter the Senate race.
A number of other potential Republican contenders have also declined to enter the race. Like Atwater, Attorney General Pam Bondi (R-FL) has said that she wants to finish the four years of her term as AG and is focused on that job. Former U.S. Rep. Allen West (R-FL) has moved to Texas since leaving office and has publicly said he is not moving back for a political campaign.
The latest on the list to step aside is U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL), who captured 5 percent in this latest poll. Rooney issued a statement on Monday that while he was confident he could mount a successful statewide campaign, “the toll I believe the process would take on my family is something I cannot put them through.” Said Rooney, “There is no greater responsibility I have than the upbringing of my three young sons. Therefore, I will not seek the Republican nomination for Senate in 2016.”
“The current field will likely change,” said J. Bradford Coker, Mason-Dixon’s Managing Director in a statement released with the poll results. “Some will run, others will pass and some new faces may enter the fray. No matter who
eventually runs all will face the tough task of getting Florida voters to know who they are and what sets them apart.”
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter @rumpfshaker.