TAMPA — Gov. Rick Scott appears to have pulled even in his re-election battle with likely Democratic challenger Charlie Crist with the help of some $13.5 million in ads concentrated heavily in the Tampa market.
Crist, meanwhile, though he’s raising money much faster than Democratic candidates traditionally have, is still far behind Scott in fundraising and holding his fire in the face of an unusually early advertising blitz by Scott.
Polls in the race have been changing and inconsistent, but most have shown Scott moving up on Crist since last winter, when the blitz started.
One survey out Tuesday by Public Policy Polling showed a tie in the race, with Crist and Scott at 42 percent each — a change from a 12-point lead for Crist in the same poll last fall.
Another poll Tuesday, by Survey USA, showed Crist leading Scott but by less than in April and less than the poll’s error margin.
According to Democratic sources tracking Scott’s advertising, he has spent $13.5 million on television advertising in the race since Crist announced in November, including $3.9 million in the Tampa market — the state’s largest — and $2.8 million in the Orlando market.
Scott has bought nearly 10,000 gross ratings points worth of advertising in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Sarasota market, a measure that means a typical viewer would have seen nearly 100 of his ads.
He has bought similar saturation-levels of advertising in two other markets, Orlando-Daytona Beach-Melbourne and West Palm Beach-Fort Pierce.
Scott has alternated attack ads with ads aimed at improving his image with voters, including one ad showing him playing with his 2-year-old grandson.
Overall, the Real Clear Politics average of all published polls in the race shows Crist with a 2-point lead, down from about 6 points in February and March.
“Rick Scott’s early negative advertising blitz against Charlie Crist has paid off in a big way,” said pollster Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling.
He said Scott’s attack ads appear to have affected voters’ opinions of Crist.
In PPP’s new poll, Crist is underwater in his personal approval ratings — 48 percent said they have a negative opinion of Crist to 32 percent positive. A PPP poll last fall showed voters evenly divided on Crist, 43 percent favorable to 42 percent unfavorable.
Voters still haven’t completely warmed to Scott. He’s underwater in approval of his performance in office, with 39 percent approving and 48 percent disapproving.
The Survey USA poll showed Crist leading 44-40 percent. That’s an improvement for Crist over a May 23 Survey USA poll that showed Scott leading by 2 points but a drop from Crist’s 46-41 percent lead in April.
In exhortations to supporters, Democrats call the race a dead heat.
“Polls are showing the governor’s race tied, and Rick Scott is going to do whatever it takes to win,” said a fundraising email from the Florida Democratic Party Tuesday.
Steve Schale, senior adviser to the Crist campaign, said the movement in polling numbers is only a result of Scott’s unanswered advertising blitz and won’t stand once Crist and Democrats start firing back.