Former Florida Charlie Crist campaigning for 2014 Florida gubernatorial race
(CNN) - A new poll in what may end up being the marquee gubernatorial battle of 2014 indicates Democratic challenger and former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist with a single digit lead over incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Scott.
According to a Quinnipiac University survey released Thursday, 47% of Sunshine State voters say they'd vote for Crist if the 2014 election were held today, with four in 10 saying they'd vote for Scott, who was elected governor in 2010.
But Crist's seven percentage point advantage is down from a 10-point lead over Scott in a June Quinnipiac survey and a 16-point lead in March in matchups that were hypothetical at the time.
Last month Crist, who served four years as a Republican governor, announced his Democratic challenge to Scott.
According to the poll, Scott has an underwater 42%-47% approval rating, and by a 53%-37% margin voters say he doesn't deserve to be re-elected.
Voters approve 53%-36% of the job Crist did as governor.
Florida voters are divided 46%-49% on whether Crist's party shifts are positive or negative.
"Voters currently think Crist was a good governor and are evenly split on whether they see his party switching as evidence he is a pragmatist or lacks core beliefs," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
"To catch Crist, Scott is going to have to convince Florida voters that Crist was a bad governor and a political opportunist. And he is planning on spending tens of millions of dollars on television ads to make that argument. This will be an intensely negative campaign on both sides. The survivor will be the candidate voters dislike least on Election Day."
Crist, then a Republican, was elected governor of Florida in 2006, succeeding two-term GOP Gov. Jeb Bush. In March of 2009, Crist announced he would run for an open U.S. Senate seat in 2010 rather than for a second term as governor.
While he started out as the overwhelming frontrunner to win the GOP Senate nomination, his hugging of President Barack Obama at a February 2009 event in Florida to promote federal stimulus spending came back to hurt him with conservatives.
After falling way behind former state lawmaker and one-time longshot candidate Marco Rubio in the race for the Republican nomination, Crist left the GOP in April 2010 and continued his Senate bid as an independent candidate. He ended up losing a three-way general election battle to Rubio, who's become a star among conservatives.
Last year Crist endorsed Obama's re-election campaign, and at the end of the year he formally became a Democrat.
Scott, a former health care executive, spent more than $75 million of his own money to narrowly capture the governor's office in 2010, in a close contest with Democrat Alex Sink, the state's former chief financial officer.
The 57-year-old Crist isn't the only Democrat running for the party's nomination. Former state Sen. Nan Rich, 71, of Broward County, is also making a bid.
The poll indicates Crist topping Rich 60%-12% in the Democratic primary. The poll also indicates Scott leading Rich 43%-35% in a hypothetical general election showdown.
The Quinnipiac University poll was conducted Nov. 12-17, with 1,646 registered voters in Florida questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus 2.4 percentage points.
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