TV spending soars as Fla. governor's race remains too close to call

A new poll shows that 44 percent of likely voters prefer Scott, and 42 percent prefer Crist, while 8 percent say they'd vote for Libertarian Adrian Wyllie.

Brian Blanco/Steve Nesius/Reuters/File
Former Florida Governor Charlie Crist (r.) concedes his defeat in his campaign for US Senate in St. Petersburg, Florida, in 2010, and Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott talks with reporters in Tampa, Florida, in August, in a combination of file photos. Months of mud-slinging by Scott and Crist have made voters distrust both men in a hot race that is too close to call, according to a new poll released Wednesday.

The race between Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Republican-turned-Democrat former Gov. Charlie Crist is too close to call and voters aren't happy with their choice, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday.

The poll shows that 44 percent of likely voters prefer Scott, and 42 percent prefer Crist, while 8 percent say they'd vote for Libertarian Adrian Wyllie. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, meaning the race is a statistical tie.

Voters seem to agree, though, that neither major party candidate is trustworthy. The poll showed that 49 percent of voters don't think Crist is honest, compared to 37 percent who say he is. Scott's numbers are similar — 51 percent say he isn't trustworthy compared to 39 percent who say he is.

"When fewer than four in 10 voters think both the Democratic and Republican candidates for governor are honest, you know this has been one of the nastiest races in state history," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the university's poll. "They have been throwing so much mud that they both are covered in it."

Most of the $32 million spent in Florida's governor's race has been on ads that back Scott or criticize Crist, according to a study by the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity, which researched data from of Kantar Media/CMAG on television ad spending across the nation by candidates for state offices.

And far more than any other state, the money being pumped into Florida's governor's race is coming through political committees set up for the candidates or political parties rather than through candidates' individual campaigns, the study shows.

For example, "Let's Get to Work," a political committee backing Scott's re-election, and the Republican Party of Florida combined to spend $20.6 million on ads, compared to just $176,300 by Scott's official campaign. Likewise, the Florida Democratic Party has spent $8.9 million on ads backing Crist or attacking Scott, compared to not quite $1 million spent by the Crist campaign, the study shows.

NextGen Climate Action, an environmental group attacking Scott, has spent $1.2 million in Florida and was the only independent group spending money on the race, according to the study.

In Florida, candidates can only accept donations of up to $3,000 per voter, but they can set up political committees that aren't subject to donation limits. That means the committees that support Crist and Scott collect and spend significantly more than their individual campaign accounts. In Crist's case, his political committee, "Charlie Crist for Florida," has been giving the Florida Democratic Party money for campaign ads.

Neither candidate has a good approval rating, with 49 percent of respondents saying they have an unfavorable opinion of Crist compared to 48 percent who said they have an unfavorable opinion of Scott.

Voters do think that Scott is a stronger leader, the poll found. When asked about Scott, 58 percent said he has strong leadership qualities and 34 percent said he doesn't. That compares to 46 percent who said Crist is a strong leader and 45 percent who said he isn't.

Neither campaign commented on the poll.

Wyllie received 8 percent support even though 86 percent of respondents said they don't know enough about him to form an opinion. No Libertarian candidate on a statewide ballot has received as much as 1 percent support in a Florida election.

The poll of 991 likely voters was conducted Sept. 17-22.

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