TALLAHASSEE -- Republican Marco Rubio is widening his lead in Florida's U.S. Senate race, up by 12 points in a poll released Saturday.
The dynamics of a three-way race are working against independent Gov. Charlie Crist who is losing support from Democrats and unaffiliated voters, leaving a slim opening for Democrat Kendrick Meek to make it a race.
Rubio has 40 percent support, ahead of Crist's 28 percent and Democrat U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek 23 percent.
Crist, who abandoned the Republican Party in April, is leaking partisans and independents as voters now view him unfavorably at a record-high rate, according to Mason-Dixon Polling & Research.
With the election just more than four weeks away, Rubio has the winning line.
"Rubio seems to be in a solid position to win, while Crist is fading," said Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon. "Sitting on 40 percent in a three-way race is a very strong position to hold. Rubio, in fact, only needs to gain 2-3 points to wrap up the race."
With Crist's numbers falling among Democrats and independents, Meek -- in third place now -- has a chance to attract more members of his own party and unaffiliated voters as the only way to challenge Rubio.
"Meek is in a tight position. He has an outside chance to pull off a major comeback," Coker said.
Coker said Meek must convince Democrats that Crist's effort is "hopeless."
Meek's campaign amplified that theme.
"Charlie Crist's second collapse is underway," said Adam Sharon, a spokesman for Meek's campaign. "With no path to victory, despite his solid conservative record, the governor is faltering and heading for a third place finish."
Rubio and Crist's campaigns both chose not to respond to repeated questions about the poll.
Of those surveyed, 44 percent view Rubio favorably against 34 percent with an unfavorable view. Meek has a 32/27 favorable/unfavorable split. Crist has seen his favorability numbers head south. The governor had enjoyed among the best favorability ratings in the state, but that's changed.
Now, Crist is viewed favorably by 35 percent and unfavorably by 36 percent. That's the highest unfavorable rating for Crist in eight years of polling and the first time he's been viewed more negatively than positively.
Coker sees desperation in Crist's campaign strategy.
"Crist, who is already universally known to these voters, has started his media campaign by going on the attack," Coker said. "That is a pretty clear sign that his campaign is aware that they are in trouble."
By Paul Flemming, Florida Capital Bureau