New poll says Senate race still a blowout for Nelson

Polling firms from both parties give the incumbent a 26-point lead.

Published October 28, 2006

Hispanics prefer her. So do voters in southwest Florida. But working women shun her. And independents. And even if she won over every undecided voter in Florida, U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris would still be down by double digits.

With the election a little more than a week away, the U.S. Senate race still appears a blowout, with Sen. Bill Nelson holding a 26-point lead over Harris, a Republican, according to a new poll by the St. Petersburg Times.

"Anybody leading two to one at this stage is going to win," said pollster Rob Schroth.

"I think the voters of Florida have already decided. I think this one is over. Bill Nelson will be the U.S. senator from Florida."

The statewide telephone survey of 800 voters was conducted for the Times from Oct. 22-25 by Schroth/Eldon & Associates, which works with Democrats, and the Polling Co., which works with Republicans.

The poll found Nelson with 56 percent, compared with 30 percent for Harris and 14 percent undecided. The margin of error is 3.5 percentage points.

Kellyanne Conway of the Polling Co. concurred with Schroth. Given the determined snubs from national and state Republican Party leaders, who openly tried to recruit others to replace Harris on the ticket, "she ought to hold her head high" if she gets 40 percent.

Nelson, who styles himself as a centrist, has strong crossover appeal, compared with virtually none for Harris, the poll found: Just 20 percent of independents say they plan to vote for Harris, compared with 59 percent for Nelson. And while just 6 percent of Democrats plan to vote for Harris, 22 percent of Republicans plan to choose Nelson.

Theresa Meola, 43, an office manager in West Palm Beach, is an independent voter who is voting for Nelson, partly because of her strong feelings against Harris. She feels Harris improperly helped George W. Bush win the 2000 presidential election and does not believe she is ready for the Senate.

"There could be a cow running against her," she said, "and I would vote for the cow."

Donald Rene Nadeau, 53, a semiretired massage therapist from West Palm Beach, is a registered Republican who plans to vote for Republican Charlie Crist for governor. But he also will be voting for Nelson.

"Nelson is just a down-to-earth guy. You can just look at his face and see that he does what he says," Nadeau said. At last week's televised debate, "he came through so much simpler, so much better, and he didn't seem to hide anything."

Several Harris supporters said she earned their devotion during the 2000 presidential election, when as Florida secretary of state she halted a recount that ultimately led to victory for Bush.

Cesar Montalvo, 78, of Hollywood, a retired estate investor, plans to vote for Harris because she did a good job as elections chief and has become a celebrity, which he thinks is necessary in politics. He admits he knows little about Nelson.

For Nelson, the bigger question now becomes a matter of legacy, margin and money. If he cracks 60 percent, he'll enter the realm of Florida's most popular recent politician, former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham.

But Tom Eldon of Schroth/Eldon said that national Democrats "would be a lot more impressed by him showing his coattails and helping" other candidates and that he should use his money on getting out votes instead of "the relatively weak air effort he has now."

Times staff writers Bill Adair and Anita Kumar contributed to this story. Wes Allison can be reached at allison@sptimes.com.