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Florida U.S. Senate Race Coming Down To The Wire

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U.S. Senator Marco Rubio is scheduled to rally supporters at Pensacola Beach on Saturday, as the race for that seat depends on which poll you see and to whom you speak. 

Republican incumbent Marco Rubio has a six-point lead over Democrat Patrick Murphy in the latest Quinnipiac University poll – with a CNN/ORC International survey having him up by only a single point. Other polls show varying distances between the pair.

“I feel that I’d rather be Rubio than Murphy at this point; Rubio has the advantage of name recognition [and] the incumbency,” says Charles Zelden, a political scientist at Nova Southeastern University. If there’s any Achilles heel for Rubio, Zelden says it could be Rubio’s failed bid for the White House.

“His run for president did not put him in a good light with people,” says Zeldin. “But he’s still known.”

And, what would be the keys to victory for the Murphy campaign? Perhaps the main one is at the top of the ballot.

“If Hillary ends up winning Florida by three, four, five percentage points, that probably means a couple of extra points towards Murphy, just in terms of down-ballot voting by Democratic voters and independent voters who are voting Democratic. That may be enough in a close race to have him squeak by.”

Two words that keep coming up in the contest are: Donald Trump. One of Murphy’s strongest arguments against Rubio is the incumbent’s support of the GOP presidential candidate. Murphy has repeatedly made the Rubio-Trump connection at rallies, interviews, and, most notably, recent debates.

“When asked about violating the Cuban embargo,” Murphy said to Rubio onstage, “The person you chose to be our next president basically admitted he violated the embargo. That’s an issue close to you. So, what’s it going to take to un-endorse Donald Trump?”

Although he voted for him, Rubio has sought to distance himself from Trump, who during primary season referred to Rubio as “Little Marco,” and other disparaging names. Facing off against Murphy in one debate, Rubio tried to turn the tables.

“On this stage tonight there’s only one person that’s ever run against Donald Trump and tried to defeat him, and that was me,” Rubio told Murphy. “And by the way, there’s only one person on this stage tonight, whose family made millions of dollars in partnership with Donald Trump, and that’s you.”

The common thread in every general election is the number of independent voters both sides look to influence. Charles Zelden says they can be the “X-factor” in two ways – will they show up to vote, and who will they vote for? Plus, the independent vote splits roughly down the middle, according to Zelden, with about five to ten percent of the vote right in the middle that truly is flippable.

There’s one more candidate in the race. Paul Stanton is the first to win a Libertarian senate primary in Florida. But you may not have known that.

“The proper response I think is, ‘Paul who?’” said Zelden. “I don’t think anyone realizes he’s running.”

More than one-third of Florida's 13 million registered voters had already cast ballots as of Thursday morning through early voting and by mail. Of those, both Democrats and Republicans are hovering around the 40 percent mark. 

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.