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Private poll: Crist has big lead in Democratic primary

A new private poll of 1,000 Democratic voters gives former Gov. Charlie Crist an overwhelming advantage over all other Democrats in a hypothetical primary for governor, including a 21-point lead in a test matchup against Alex Sink, the party's 2010 nominee.

Neither Crist nor Sink has announced plans to run for governor. The poll concludes that Crist is far better known than Sink and that 75 percent of Democrats believe he has the best chance of beating Republican Gov. Rick Scott in 2014. 

In a coincidence of timing, about half of the poll was done before Crist's Dec. 7 announcement that he was becoming a Democrat, and half was conducted afterward. The poll showed Crist increasing his lead over Sink from 17 points to 25 after his switch became public at a White House holiday reception, for a bottom-line advantage of 21 points (55 percent to 34 percent with 11 percent undecided).

The poll was done for an undisclosed client of ClearView Research from Dec. 4-9, and has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points. ClearView, a market research firm, is run in part by Screven Watson, a former executive director of the Florida Democratic Party and a Tallahassee political operative who said he has no connection to Crist. 

"This was not done to promote or demote anybody," Watson said. "A client had a curiosity. We do not have a dog in this fight."

According to the poll, 79 percent of Democrats have a somewhat or very favorable view of Crist compared to 58 percent for Sink. Crist, a former Republican governor who ran as an independent Senate candidate in 2010, completed his conversion to the Democratic Party Thursday.

The poll tested six other names, all of whom had much lower favorability ratings than Crist or Sink, larggely because they are less well-known: Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler, former Sen. Nan Rich, former Attorney General Bob Butterworth, Florida Democratic Party chairman Rod Smith and former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio.

Nearly half of voters (47 percent) said they would be "much more likely" to vote for Crist if he were endorsed by Democratic leaders such as former Gov. Bob Graham, Sen. Bill Nelson or President Barack Obama. The poll shows Crist is weakest where the president is, too: among "Dixiecrats," conservative Democrats in North Florida

The pollster also offered voters a series of "push" statements that did not affect the results in any statistically significant way. Among the statements: that Crist endorsed Sarah Palin for vice-president in 2008 and campaigned for Obama in 2012; that he "can't be trusted" because he has switched parties and positions so often; that Sink and her husband, Bill McBride, have both run for governor and lost; and that Sink is pro-choice.

-- Steve Bousquet