TALLAHASSEE — Republican Rick Scott is leading Democrat Alex Sink in the race to become Florida's next governor, with Sink being hurt by President Barack Obama's unpopularity among Republican and independent voters, a poll released Friday suggests.
The Quinnipiac University poll shows Scott, a Naples businessman, favored by 49 percent of 1,151 voters to 43 percent who preferred Sink, the state's chief financial officer. The survey was taken between Sept. 23 and 28 and it claims a margin of error is plus or minus 2.9 percentage points. It was Quinnipiac's first screening of voters likely to cast ballots in the Nov. 2 election.
"This race is likely to be close until Election Day," pollster Peter Brown said. "Whichever side does the best job getting its people to the polls is likely to be the winner."
Scott, a 57-year-old multimillionaire, was little known before he poured $50 million of his own fortune into winning the Republican nomination. The poll shows he holds held a slight edge among women voters, a wider advantage among men and a double-digit lead among independents on the issue of rebuilding the economy.
The poll indicated that Sink, who is trying to become Florida's first woman governor, is being hurt by Obama's unfavorable job rating. Those polled disapproved of the president's performance by a 56-40 margin. If that were turned around, Sink probably would be ahead, Brown said.
The Republicans polled disapproved of the president's performance by a 92-6 margin while independents disapproved by a 56-38 margin. Democrats polled supported the president 83-15.
Sink and Scott had nearly identical favorability ratings with those questioned by Quinnipiac. Scott was seen favorably by 41 percent to 40 percent who regarded him unfavorably while Sink was perceived favorably at 39 percent and unfavorably by the same amount.
The poll reported that 47 percent of the women favored Scott to 43 percent for Sink while overall 48 percent of those questioned said Scott was better suited to rebuild the economy to 39 percent who thought Sink would do a better job.
Most respondents also said they were unlikely to change their minds before the election.
Scott, a former chief executive of Columbia/HCA, one the nation's largest chain of hospitals, rocketed to prominence in a few weeks this spring on the strength of an around-the-clock TV advertising blitz. It overwhelmed the Republican establishment's favorite, Attorney General Bill McCollum, in the Aug. 24 primary election.
But Scott's primary win resulted in an immediate about face by virtually all key Republicans ranging from former Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. John Thrasher, the state party chairman, who quickly embraced the political newcomer. Only McCollum has held back his support, saying he doesn't trust Scott's character.
Both McCollum and now Sink have attacked Scott because during his tenure with Columbia/HCA, the chain paid the largest Medicare fraud settlement in history, $1.7 billion. Investigators said its doctors, pressured to cut costs and produce revenue, over-billed the federal programs to increase reimbursements, among other violations.
Scott was never charged with a crime and has denied knowledge of the fraud, although he says he takes responsibility. He wanted to fight the charges, but was forced out by his board in 1997 — landing with $10 million in cash and $300 million in stock.
Sink, a former president of Bank of America's Florida operations, had only token opposition in the primary.
The governor's office is being vacated in January by Charlie Crist, who was elected in 2006 as a Republican but decided to forgo re-election to pursue a U.S. Senate seat. During that process, Crist was overhauled by tea party darling Marco Rubio in polls on a Republican primary matchup and ditched the party in April to pursue his candidacy as an independent.