Poll indicates Crist-Gallagher race tightening
A Florida chamber poll has Crist's lead down to 10 points, with 29 percent of voters undecided in the GOP gubernatorial race.
By ADAM C. SMITH
Published August 26, 2006
ORANGE PARK - Don't have a coronation for Charlie Crist just yet.
A new poll for the Florida Chamber of Commerce shows the Republican gubernatorial front-runner leading rival Tom Gallagher by 10 percentage points, but 29 percent of likely GOP primary voters are still undecided.
"Florida Republicans have a governor's race on their hands. How tight it becomes is in the hands of the two candidates," pollster Matt Towery said Friday, as the chamber released its Aug. 23 and 24 survey by InsiderAdvantage/Majority Opinion Research.
Where most recent polls have shown Attorney General Crist leading by 20 percentage points or more, this is the first sign that Gallagher's attacks on Crist as big spender with a liberal stance on social issues may be hitting their mark. The survey of 500 likely Republican primary voters had a margin of error of 4 percent.
"It's pretty basic Republican primary laws of gravity," said Gallagher adviser Mike Murphy, suggesting that conservative Republicans are starting to take a harder look at Crist on issues like supporting an expensive mandate to reduce class sizes and supporting civil unions for gays.
"He's been running a general election campaign from day one, and now he's stuck in a Republican primary. That's a bad place for him, given some of the positions he's taken."
The Crist campaign had long predicted the primary contest would tighten, but it dismissed the new poll. It said its own polling puts Crist 19 percentage points ahead of Gallagher, and leading in all regions of Florida. The chamber poll showed Gallagher ahead in North Florida.
But if Crist isn't worried, he also isn't taking chances on a Gallagher rebound heading toward the Sept. 5 primary. On Friday Crist launched a tough ad attacking Gallagher's conservative persona as phony. Through most of his career, Gallagher has been a leader in the moderate wing of the Florida GOP.
"You're Tom Gallagher and you've got problems. You've run for governor three times: liberal, prochoice, antigun, and so protax you supported the largest tax increase in state history," says the ad's narrator. "Taxing Tom Gallagher. Desperate, you try to flip-flop, confessing that each time you run, you're a different person. But you're still Taxing Tom Gallagher, no conservative, still loves higher taxes, even opposing Charlie Crist's property tax cuts. Charlie Crist: endorsed by the NRA, a positive, prolife Ronald Reagan Republican we trust."
Crist has more resources to use against Gallagher than Gallagher has to use against him. New campaign finance reports show that Crist, who already has spent more than $3-million to saturate the airwaves with campaign ads for the remaining 10 days before the primary, had $1.65-million in his account on Aug. 18. Gallagher had $1.4-million, but his campaign reports indicate he has been buying TV time week by week.
Finishing a three-day bus tour through central and north Florida Friday, Crist looked anything but anxious. Still, he exhorted supporters to take nothing for granted.
"Ten days to go, and it is time to put on the gas. It's giddyup time," said Crist, telling supporters in Clay County to remind their friends not to buy Gallagher's attacks. "I'm prolife, I'm progun, I'm profamily, I'm business, I'm pro you. We're running against a guy who's been all over the map."
On a Daytona Beach radio show Friday, Gallagher continued to accuse Crist of adopting multiple positions on issues. For example, Gallagher said that while Crist supports a ban on same-sex marriage, he approves of civil unions between gays.
"He's taken so many different stands on some of the issues, it's hard to know what he really stands for," Gallagher told WNDB. "I certainly can't think for him."
Gallagher has another chance to gain Monday night when he and Crist face off for the second and final televised debate of the primary. It will air at 8 on NBC stations across Florida.
Times staff writers Jennifer Liberto and Steve Bousquet contributed to this report. Adam C. Smith can be reached at (727) 893-8241 or firstname.lastname@example.org.