By Bill Cotterell
TALLAHASSEE Fla. (Reuters) - Months of mud-slinging by Florida Governor Rick Scott and former Governor Charlie Crist have made voters distrust both men in a hot race that is too close to call, according to a new poll released Wednesday.
Six weeks before election day, the Quinnipiac University Poll found Republican Scott with support of 44 percent of likely voters, while 42 percent said they would vote for Crist, a former Republican now running as a Democrat after he switched parties in 2012.
Independent candidate Adrian Wyllie, a libertarian who is on the ballot, drew a surprising 11 percent, which could prove decisive on November 4.
Peter Brown, assistant director of the polling operation, said large numbers of voters do not trust Scott or Crist.
"When fewer than four in 10 voters think both the Democratic and Republican candidates for governor are honest, you know this has to be one of the nastiest races in state history," Brown said in a statement announcing the poll results. "They have been throwing so much mud that they both are covered in it."
The governor's campaign, while touting job creation in the past four years, has battered Crist with TV ads about his past friendship with former Florida lawyer Scott Rothstein, who was convicted of investment fraud in a Ponzi scheme.
Crist, for his part, has hammered Scott with ads recalling the $1.8 billion in federal fraud fines paid by Columbia/HCA, the large hospital corporation he ran before entering politics.
While Scott's 44-42 percent edge was within the poll's 3.1 percent error margin, Brown said a three-way question opened Scott's lead to 44-37 percent over Crist, with Wyllie drawing 11 percent.
"Wyllie voters are the bigger unknown because there is little way of predicting if they will stay with the third-party challenger or decide to switch to Scott or Crist, in order to be with a winner," Brown said in his analysis of the numbers. "At this point, neither major party candidate is doing markedly better as a second choice of Wyllie voters."
Brown noted that negative campaigning "tends to be a turnoff" for independents and third-party voters, like Wyllie's supporters.
The poll was conducted among 991 likely voters during September 17-22.
(Editing by David Adams and Chizu Nomiyama)