by Kris Alingod
A new poll finds that voters in the Sunshine State have not just forgiven former Gov. Charlie Crist for switching parties, they would also vote for him as a Democrat in 2014 if he ran against Gov. Rick Scott, who has seen the popularity that pushed him into office plummet so much so he is now the nation's most unpopular governor.
Only six months after officially succeeding Crist, who left the GOP last year to run as an independent for the U.S. Senate, Scott is seeing voter disapproval of him growing. According to Public Policy Polling, it is now at 59 percent, up 4 points since a similar survey in March.
Currently, 33 percent of Florida voters think Scott is doing a good job. The decline is largely due to shrinking support among independents.
Scott won the gubernatorial race in November against Democrat and former state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink by more than 1 percent after spending $73 million of his own wealth to campaign. His narrow victory at the time reflected voter hostility nationwide to incumbents and establishment candidates that allowed Tea Party conservatives and newcomers to win without their party's backing.
The latest PPP poll found that Sink would beat Scott if the election were held today, 57-35 percent. Independents would support the Democrat, 55-33 percent.
Republicans also seem to have lost some confidence in Scott. GOP voters supported him 88-10 percent in November but would vote for him, 68-23 percent, if the election were held today.
If Crist were to challenge Scott in 2014, he would win against the governor, 56-34 percent. Independent voters would vote for Crist, 62-30 percent.
Crist was a star of the GOP and one of the nation's most popular governors before backlash from conservatives, beginning with his hugging President Barack Obama during a Florida visit, forced him out of the party despite the backing of Republican leaders. He lost his Senate bid to Sen. Marco Rubio, a former state House speaker who won the race as a Tea Party favorite.
"If Charlie Crist has a future in electoral politics it's probably as a Democrat," PPP president Dean Debnam said in a statement. "And while he would trounce Rick Scott the reality is that so would a ham sandwich as the governor continues to become more and more unpopular."
The poll comes a month after a Quinnipiac University survey found that 57 percent of voters disapprove of Scott's performance as governor and only 29 percent approve of his work. The rating was the worst among all governors Quinnipiac surveyed nationwide. Among Republicans, only 51 percent approve of Scott's performance.
Since assuming office, Scott has implemented policies that have caused his popularity to erode, including a measure requiring drug testing for those who qualify for benefits from a program for low-income families, and an annual budget that cuts funds for homeless veterans, seniors, domestic violence victims, the disabled and environmental programs.
In addition, the budget lays off thousands of public employees. The governor had sought to make drastic reductions in K-12 funding but his fellow Republicans in the state legislature opposed the proposed cuts in in the budget, which Scott has ensured does not raise taxes.
Scott was chief executive of Columbia/HCA before his political career. He is founder of Conservatives for Patients Rights, a group affiliated with the Tea Party that actively supported town halls in opposition to the Obama administration's healthcare reform bill.
The governor has been using robocalls in recent weeks to inform voters about his accomplishments, the Miami Herald reported on Tuesday.
The approach to "get [his] message out" directly to voters, as he told the paper, is standard practice for political candidates but unusual for a governor in his first year in office. Moreover, it will unlikely help Scott's approval ratings. The Herald quoted a voter, independent Kathy Winarski, as saying, "Why's he bothering me... He should just hold a press conference, instead of these one-way, targeted calls."
Charlie Crist Would Topple Rick Scott Next Florida Governor Race | Politics