by Mark Silva
In Florida, the first mega-state to hold a presidential preference primary this winter, Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) holds a commanding early lead over any of her rivals, and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani holds a similar advantage among Republicans – while support for Arizona Sen. John McCain “fades’’ in the Sunshine State.
These are among the findings of a new Quinnipiac University Poll in Florida, which also adds a speculative note on the potential aspirations of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who recently became a political independent, fueling speculation about a presidential bid of his own.
With a possible general election contest between Giuliani and Clinton in Florida looking like a statistical tie more than a year away – with the Republican holding a 46-44 percentage edge among likely voters surveyed – it appears that Bloomberg, a former Republican, could deprive Giuliani of more votes as a “spoiler’’ in a three-way race. The statistical tie shifts in Clinton’s direction – with a 41-39 percent edge over Guiliani – with Bloomberg claiming 9 percent of those surveyed.
Of course, Bloomberg has no interest in spending some of his massive fortune on becoming a political spoiler and has said he will run for president when no one else on the planet it. Yet, that measure of potential support in an extremely important and potentially swing state suggests that the Democrats might like a Republican vote-getting spoiler like Bloomberg in the race. In 2000, the Democrats suffered from the spoiler-impact of Ralph Nader on the Florida ballot.
“The conventional wisdom may be that Mayor Bloomberg’s generally liberal approach to many issues would mean he would take more votes from Democrats and help the Republicans in a three-way race,’’ says Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute and a Florida-seasoned journalist. “At this point, that just isn’t so.’’
It’s also pretty early to be talking about general elections in Florida, home of 27 key electoral votes which put President Bush in the White House after a 36-day court battle over a disputed vote that ended with a contested 537-vote margin for Bush over former Vice President Al Gore.
So look at the primary results:
With a Jan. 29 primary scheduled – early than ever for Florida, and placing it near the start of a lineup dominated by much smaller states – a bellwether primary could be in the making. It will be viewed not only as the first big-state primary contest, but also as a measure of the viability of a candidate in a general election state that cannot be discounted in November 2008.
President Clinton carried the state once, in his reelection contest with Bob Dole. President Jimmy Carter carried it once, in his first election. And Lyndon Johnson carried it. Al Gore may well have carried it, had the Clinton administration not insisted on the forced removal of the young Cuban refugee, Elian Gonzales, from his Miami relatives’ home and his return to Cuba.
(The Democrats who carried the 2000 contest to the Supreme Court would tell you that Gore would have carried it in 2000, had the ballots been counted correctly – though independent newspaper reviews found in an examination of disputed ballots that Bush probably would have prevailed).
In sum: Southern Democrats have run best in the Sunshine State during the past half-century.
Among Democratic voters surveyed in Florida, Quinnipiac has found 36 percent supporting Clinton, compared with 14 percent each for Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.
Among Republicans surveyed, Quinnipiac found 30 percent supporting Giuliani, compared with 18 percent for Fred Thompson, the former Tennessee senator and television and film star considering a race and just 10 percent for the Republican once perceived as the party’s best bet, McCain, 10 percent – slightly better than former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s 9 percent.
“Florida is as good an example as there is regarding the demise of Sen. McCain’s fortunes,” Quinnipiac’s Brown says in a report out today. “His share of the Republican vote has dropped from 23 percent in February to 10 percent today. And while he used to defeat Democrats in mythical match-ups he now loses all of them.”
For more on the poll and other candidates, see the report.