Following Monday nights debate, momentum in Floridas race for governor appears to be slowly shifting to Rick Scott. Republican Scott jumped to a 2-point lead immediately prior to, and during, his red-hot CNN slugfest with Democrat Alex Sink.
Sunshine State News' nightly tracking poll of likely voters shows Scott moving from a 45-45 tie with Sink on Oct. 20 to a 47-45 advantage Monday night.
Two weeks earlier (Oct. 12-13), Sink held a 48-45 advantage.
Jim Lee, president of Voter Survey Service, which conducted this and all Sunshine State News Polls, said the fundamental dynamics of the race have changed in three weeks.
"These two are so evenly matched," Lee said, "that for the last three weeks they have traded the lead more than once -- yet the election is now in Scott's favor. I say this because Scott leads by nearly 2 points overall (46-45) -- not a lot -- but by 4 points (48-44) among those who say they are most likely to vote."
Sink does have the advantage in independent voters. She's gone from a 45-45 tie on Oct. 6 to a 47-34 lead in the current poll. "However," said Lee, "this is really within the poll's margin of error because of the small sub-sample (186 surveys with independents in Monday's survey)."
How can Scott now be leading when he's losing independents? Lee has the answer:
"I went back to the first poll we did in September after the primaries, and in that poll Sink was leading by 2 points (44-42). But the difference was that Scott did not have the GOP base secured because of the fallout from the primary with (Bill) McCollum."
Lee said election watchers should "stay tuned" to see how this final week plays out, particularly with Sink's text-message-during-the-debate gaffe.
The Scott camp, too, wanted to talk about "Blackberrygate." When asked to comment on the latest poll, Scott spokesman Joe Kildea said, "As voters learn more about Alex Sink, her ballot support continues to drop. From her cheating at the debate, to Obama's failed programs, voters know she's not the one to create jobs in Florida.
Kildeas and Lee's reference to state CFO Sink cheating during Monday nights nationally televised debate is based on an incident during the debates second commercial break. Sinks makeup assistant approached with a cell phone that showed a text message. Sink appeared to neither dismiss the assistant nor refuse to look at the text.
It was a violation of debate rules.
If she didnt want to cheat, she would have sent her assistant away, but thats not what she did. She looked at the message and read it, said Deena McGregory, a Scott supporter who copied the incident on video, then forwarded it to her contact list. (See a video of the incident below.)
Sink told reporters that the worker who sent the message is no longer with her campaign.
The Sink campaign did not respond to Sunshine State News' requests for comment.
Meanwhile, Florida voters who watched the last televised gubernatorial debate of 2010 had predictions and observations to make Tuesday.
I watched the debate well, most of it and I got up in the morning and voted for Scott, Port St. Lucies William Slay, 54, told Sunshine State News. I was going to anyway, but I thought he iced it.
Glenda Wright, a Brooksville housewife, said, "I turned it off after 20 minutes. Alex Sink is my candidate, but she kind of came unhinged."
McGregory, a 50-year-old Miami nurse instructor, said that in spite of her pro-Scott bias, she believes Monday night was the first time Scott showcased his superior gubernatorial demeanor and ability to handle pressure.
The whole nation was watching and Alex couldnt keep herself under control. I was embarrassed for her and for Florida, McGregory said.
The polls can say what they like, I think shes going to lose because shes too well average. How is she going to dig this state out of a hole?
Tea party activist Robin Stublen of Punta Gorda only wanted to talk about "Blackberrygate," Sink's commercial-break "cheating."
Said Stublen, "Two things to take note about the cheating, lying Alex Sink. She still fails to take responsibility for her own actions.
"Yes, her aide did text her, but when presented the phone on the set, she should have done the right thing and pushed it away. Instead, she read the information. She tells a reporter that she did not read the text. Please forward this ... and post to websites. This shows her character."
Ed Moore, Ph.D., a keen political observer in the Sunshine State, president of Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida, sees the Scott-Sink race as so tight, so close, that the text-message incident during Monday night's CNN debate could affect the results of the gubernatorial election.
"It will come down to how caught up in the media this incident gets," Moore said. "If it crescendoes, and we see it on program after program, and all over the internet, it's bound to have a negative impact for Alex Sink."
Lee agreed. "It will take so little to push this election over the edge one way or the other. We're going to have to watch. Later in the week we'll be able to tell more."
The Sunshine State News Poll of 1,547 likely voters, taken Oct. 24-25, has a margin of error of +/- 2.4 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.
For a look at the poll's crosstabs, click on the link below.