Our newest survey, looking ahead to the 2012 Senate race in Florida, finds that an epic contest between Bill Nelson and Jeb Bush would be closely fought. Nelson leads Bush 46-44 in such a match up.
Nelson has pretty solid approval numbers for a Democrat in this political climate, with 39% of voters giving him good marks to 33% disapproving. He's doing well on two key measures: independents approve of him 39/34, and there are more Republicans (21%) who like the job he's doing than there are Democrats (18%) who don't.
Bush's favorability numbers are pretty solid as well, an indication that the Bush brand or at least the non-George W. Bush brand, is not completely destroyed. 45% of voters have a favorable opinion of him while 42% see him unfavorably. His numbers are extremely polarized along party lines with 78% of Republicans seeing him positively and 72% of Democrats seeing him negatively. Independents split almost evenly, 41/40 toward a favorable view of Bush.
A head to head match up between Nelson and Bush shapes up as a contest where both candidates would already have their parties pretty much completely locked up and independents would hold the balance of power in this closely divided state. Bush has an 83-10 advantage with Republicans while Nelson has an 81-10 lead with Democrats. Nelson holds the overall lead thanks to a 49-36 edge with independents.
There's a pretty good chance a Nelson-Bush bout would be the most expensive US Senate race ever, and it seems likely that it would be the most watched race in the country beyond the Presidential race.
At this point though it seems more likely that Nelson's opponent might be his current colleague, appointed Senator George LeMieux, and Nelson can only hope that's the case. LeMieux has not made much of a positive impression on Florida voters. Only 13% approve of his job performance while 25% disapprove. Even with Republicans his numbers are negative at 16% approval and 18% disapproval. He has not molded himself into a particularly formidable future candidate.
In a head to head contest Nelson leads LeMieux 49-28. Nelson gets 79% of Democrats while LeMieux earns support from only 52% of Republicans, and Nelson leads 49-25 with independents as well.
Nelson's numbers are good but not so good he's unbeatable. Republicans will need a really top notch candidate to do that though.
Full results here