Poll: Crist's popularity drops 'significantly' among GOP voters

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist's popularity among Republicans has dropped "significantly" over the past year, leaving him 11 points behind Marco Rubio among Republican primary voters, a new poll shows.

The former House speaker holds a 48-37 percentage point lead over Crist among likely GOP primary voters, while 15 percent remain undecided, according to the poll released Friday by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, Inc.

It tracks a stunning reversal for Crist, who led Rubio — 53 points to Rubio's 47 points — in a similar poll in May. But that poll showed Crist's lead was based on name recognition. The two were tied last June among GOP voters who were familiar with both candidates, pollster Brad Coker said.

Rubio's rise, he said, has been accompanied by a major boost in name recognition among Republicans: 10 months ago, only about half of the GOP primary electorate had heard of Rubio. Now his recognition is up to 87 percent among those surveyed.And his favorable rating has nearly doubled, from 24 percent to 42 percent, with a negative rating of 10 percent.

"Rubio got around the state on the chicken dinner circuit, got a good message and Charlie Crist made some stupid moves," Coker said. "Rubio is now in control of the race — that's not in dispute."

The gap is not as wide as some other polls have suggested. A recent Rasmussen Reports poll showed Rubio, who has been embraced by the conservative wing of the GOP, up by 22 points, 56 to 34.

Coker said centrist Crist's favorable rating with Republicans had consistently hovered around 50 percent since he began running for governor in 2005. But it has dropped to 37 percent, while his unfavorable rating has shot up from single digits to 32 percent.

"It's like Hollywood fame. One minute they love you, as soon as they get tired of you, they shoot you down," said Coker, who suggested that Republicans had supported Crist until his public embrace of President Barack Obama and the federal stimulus bill.

Both Republicans — who will hold a nationally televised debate Sunday on Fox News — hold comfortable leads over Rep. Kendrick Meek, the leading Democrat in the race.

Statewide, Crist tops Meek 50 percent to 26 percent and Rubio is ahead 44 percent to 29 percent. In May, Meek was unknown to 67 percent of voters, and Coker said he still is unknown to more than half the voters.Meek has been crisscrossing the state gathering signatures for a petition drive to put him on the ballot, but Coker noted that without a competitive primary, he hasn't drawn as much attention as the fiery Crist-Rubio match-up.

"He's doing the same thing as Rubio on the Democratic side, but there's not been much coverage because no one is running against him," Coker said. Former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre is challenging Meek, but Coker said he's unknown outside of Miami.

The telephone poll of 625 registered voters was conducted March 23-25 and included an over-sampling of 400 likely Republican primary voters. The poll has a 4 percentage point margin of error, with a 5 percentage point margin of error for primary voters.

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