Bill Nelson’s Soft Leads

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The first major poll on the 2012 Florida Senate race was released today by Public Policy Polling. It goes without saying this information will be mostly useless in the not-so-distant future as much will change between now and November 2012. However, it is certainly indicative of where things stand now for incumbent Senator Bill Nelson (D) and his potential Republican challengers.

Nelson Approval Rating
Approve: 36%
Disapprove: 33%
No Opinion: 31%

These are very weak numbers for an incumbent Senator. Anything under 50% approval is considered vulnerable, and a “no opinion” number that high is also interesting considering Nelson has been a US Senator for Florida since 2001.

Nelson Approval By Party
Democrats: 45%
Independents: 42%
Republicans: 23%

Despite Nelson’s lack of popularity, or any image at all among Floridians, he does better against all of his potential Republican opponents with the exception of a hypothetical match up with Jeb Bush, which I think is a highly unlikely contest.

Nelson: 47%
LeMieux: 36%

Nelson: 44%
Mack: 36%

Nelson: 44%
Haridopolos: 32%

Nelson: 46%
Hasner: 30%

Bush: 49%
Nelson: 44%

Nelson does as well as he does partly because he’s in positive territory with independents and has an abnormally high rating with Republicans. The real danger for Nelson is actually with the people who should be giving him their unwavering support – the Democrats – who aren’t. During the heat of an electoral campaign, what Republican support Nelson has will likely melt away as fast as a snowman on Miami Beach in July. Nelson, if he cares about getting reelected, will need to find some way to inspire the Democrats back into his camp. Certainly the dumb attacks from the right will help rally the base, but that won’t be enough. Nelson will actually have to show the Democrats he’s one of them or he’ll have a hard time finding the coalition he’ll need to win.

In other words, Sen. Nelson’s current strategy of making a big deal out of silly things like earmarks, and helping push the horrible recommendations of the Catfood Commission (which includes cuts to Social Security) is precisely the wrong thing to do.

Nelson needs to either reconnect with his Democratic base or find some way of getting Katharine Harris to run against him again.