Matt Towery

I knew that I must have been off pretty badly when I casually wrote in this national column that Florida Gov. Charlie Crist would be a good example of a Republican that voters in critical swing states could accept in the upcoming elections for Senate and the U.S. House.

I'm used to getting a fair number of emails reacting to columns, but in this case I received hundreds. Not one was complimentary of Crist. Even more shocking was that the emails came from around the nation, and not just from Florida.

Allow me a brief aside before I discuss the recent polling of this race, including our own InsiderAdvantage poll conducted for Jacksonville's Florida-Times Union. I continue to believe that what most of the broader electorate may consider to be a "mainstream" Republican right now may often simply be the one most likely to knock off Democrats this fall.

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We saw this in Massachusetts, where Scott Brown won the Senate seat and promptly sided with Democrats on some key issues. That may be little solace to devout Republicans or conservatives, but at least Brown may be an additional vote to block excessively bad significant legislation down the road.

Nevertheless, something has happened in Florida that has me recognizing that voters do not think like political strategists and analysts (and rightfully so). Gov. Crist is the tan, handsome, silver-haired politician who is known for having waltzed his way up the political food chain in the Sunshine State. Now he has gone from enjoying a comfortable lead just six months or so ago in the GOP race for U.S Senate to trailing his chief opponent by a margin of 60 percent to 26 percent, with the rest undecided. This InsiderAdvantage/Florida Times-Union survey is not alone in providing such a startling margin in the race. Just a day before our survey was released, PPP, a respected Democratic polling firm, showed a young and attractive former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio leading by well over 30 percent.

Is Crist dead in the water? Not necessarily. If his campaign uses its significant war chest and takes the unconventional move of running ads related to various accusations that have been made against Rubio, then Rubio's favorable ratings may drop and Crist could make this a closer race.

Matt Towery

Matt Towery is a pollster, attorney, businessman and former elected official. He served as campaign strategist for Congressional, Senate, and gubernatorial campaigns. His latest book is Newsvesting: Use News and Opinion to Grow Your Personal Wealth. Follow him on Twitter @MattTowery