Even before an election scandal engulfed his campaign, Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia already had a tough re-election campaign ahead of him, according to a poll released Thursday by a Republican group.
A slight plurality of voters in the district, 42 percent, said they'd prefer someone new compared to the 37 percent of those who said Garcia deserves reelection, according to the survey of 450 district voters taken by Harper Polling for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Though taken by a Republican-tied firm, the NRCC poll wasn't all bad news for Garcia. It indicated more people approve of the job he's doing, 38, compared to 35 percent who disapprove.
The tidbits from the NRCC poll -- released with a national memo characterizing Democratic "struggling" from Florida to California" -- was taken in late May.
So the results don't include details, first reported Friday by The Miami Herald, that Garcia's 2012 campaign is being investigated for requesting fraudulent absentee ballots during the Aug. 14 Democratic primary. Garcia has denied wrongdoing or knowledge of the alleged scheme.
The NRCC didn't share all of its results and critics are sure to question the poll's provenance and whether any survey questions gave it an anti-Democratic bias (that is, whether it message-tested). The poll does sample a few more Republicans (44%) than Democrats (38%). (Note: the last NRCC poll in this district, taken by another firm, accurately showed Garcia winning before the 2012 election).
Still, Garcia acknowledged the scandal will become a central campaign issue. And his supporters note that he's tough to beat, having raised about $550,000 in his first full quarter of fundraising as a freshman congressman.
Garcia also carried the district by about 11 percentage points in his race against a scandal-plagued Republican Rep. David Rivera. President Obama carried the district by about 7 percentage points. Registered Democrats slightly outnumber Republicans, 37-34 percent, making the Key West to Miami-Dade Congressional District 26 one of the most-competitive in the state.
But the poll indicated that 48 percent said they preferred a Republican candidate compared to 40 percent who said they preferred a Democrat
According to the poll, exactly half of the district said they'd prefer a congressman who provides a "Republican check and balance" to 43 percent who said they wanted a "Democratic ally of Obama."