By Bill Cotterell
TALLAHASSEE Fla. (Reuters) - Democrat Charlie Crist holds a large edge among Florida's independent voters, giving him a narrow lead over incumbent Republican Governor Rick Scott in their bid for the nation's largest swing state, a poll on Thursday showed.
The results, released by Quinnipiac University in the final week of a deadlocked campaign before Tuesday's election, showed Crist, a Republican turned Democrat, with 43 percent of the vote, and Scott with 40 percent - a statistical dead heat.
Libertarian Adrian Wyllie, who is on the ballot, polled at 8 percent of the vote.
"Independent voters are often the difference in swing states like Florida," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac poll. In a statement, he called Crist's popularity among non-party voters "truly remarkable."
Crist, a former Republican governor, ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate as an independent in 2010 and became a Democrat in 2012. Republicans have hammered him as an opportunist, but Crist said he became disillusioned with Republicans.
Thursday's poll showed Crist leading Scott 47 percent to 29 percent among independent voters, with 16 percent favoring Wyllie.
The survey, conducted between Oct. 22 and Monday, polled 817 likely voters, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.
Although the race remains tight, Crist appears to have momentum on his side. Just a week ago, a Quinnipiac poll found Crist and Scott tied at 42 percent, and Wyllie at 7 percent. Several other polls have shown the race extremely tight, as both sides flood Florida airwaves with attack advertising.
Still, Scott's campaign highlighted a similarly promising survey by the same pollsters in the final stretch the 2010 gubernatorial race, when Democrats ended up losing by one percent of the vote.
"Every morning I’m still surprised when I see that the Crist-Obama team just can’t break open a lead in early voting," said Tim Saler, Scott's deputy campaign manager in an email to supporters and reporters.
But Crist senior adviser Steven Schale noted that twice as many voters who aren't affiliated with a party have cast early ballots so far this election, compared to the last gubernatorial race.
"This trend is good news," Schale wrote in a memo.
Florida has more than 2.7 million registered voters with no political party affiliation compared with 4.6 million Democrats and 4.2 million Republicans.
(Additional reporting by Letitia Stein in Tampa, Fla. Editing by David Adams and Doina Chiacu)