TALLAHASSEE — Democratic gubernatorial nominee Alex Sink's attacks on Republican Rick Scott's business history appear to be paying off as she has almost caught him in their increasingly rancorous campaign, a poll released Tuesday showed.
Three weeks before Election Day, the two antagonists were about even in the latest Quinnipiac University poll, with Scott at 45 percent and Sink, the state's chief financial officer, favored by 44 percent.
The survey of 1,055 likely Florida voters taken between Oct. 6-10 has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. Just two weeks ago, Scott was up 49 percent to 43 percent in a similar Quinnipiac poll.
Sink, the former president of Bank of America's Florida operations, has attacked Scott incessantly about his tenure at the Columbia/HCA hospital chain, which paid the largest Medicare fraud settlement in history at $1.7 billion. Investigators said its doctors were pressured to cut costs and overcharged federal programs.
Scott was never charged with a crime and has denied knowledge of any fraud, although he took responsibility for it occurring during his tenure. Scott has said he wanted to fight the charges, but was forced out by his board in 1997.
Scott, a political newcomer and tea party favorite, overcame similar attacks by his Republican primary opponent, state Attorney General Bill McCollum.
Sink's attacks may be swaying independents, who favored her 51 percent to 34 percent in the latest survey, a big turnaround from late September when they backed Scott 46 percent to 40 percent. By slightly better than a 2-to-1 margin, independents said they believed Sink was more ethical in business than Scott.
"Her image has improved while his has deteriorated," said Peter Brown, assistant polling director for Quinnipiac. "It would seem that the debate through television ads about their respective business careers may be the reason."
Voters overall said by a margin of 44 percent to 28 percent that they believed Sink was a more ethical business executive than Scott when they were in the private sector, and nearly 9 of 10 poll respondents said a candidate's record in business was somewhat or very important in their choice.
Sink, who is trying to become Florida's first woman governor, was the preferred choice among 47 percent of females surveyed to 41 percent who liked Scott better. In the Sept. 23-28 survey, Scott was slightly preferred, 47 percent to 43 percent.
The vacancy for governor was created when then-Republican Charlie Crist decided to forego re-election to pursue a U.S. Senate seat. After Crist trailed tea party darling Marco Rubio in polls in a GOP primary matchup, he abandoned the party in April to pursue his candidacy as an independent.