Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater tops the early field of possible 2016 U.S. Senate candidates in Florida, according to a new poll, though the four potential contenders in the survey are still largely unknown to voters. A tough race is expected if Republican Sen. Marco Rubio announces next week that he's running for president.
The Republican Atwater bests Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter, the only declared candidate in the race so far, by 38-34 percent, the new Quinnipiac University poll found. Atwater also leads Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson of Orlando 42-32 percent.
Murphy holds a 35-31 percent lead over Republican Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera. Lopez-Cantera's advantage over Grayson, 33-32 percent, is essentially a tie, given the poll's 3 percent error margin.
A key figure: all of them have a high proportion of voters -- 58 percent or more -- who said they don't know enough about the politicians to form an opinion. Quinnipiac did not survey primary-election match-ups.
"If U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio runs for president, the fight for his Senate seat will be a test of relatively unknown candidates on both sides of the aisle," Peter A. Brown, the poll's assistant director, said in a statement. "Florida's Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater has a small edge in exposure to the voters, but we have a long way to go. Whoever wins will be the candidate who does the best job introducing themselves to the voters."
The poll also found that voters continue to disapprove of Republican Gov. Rick Scott's job performance by 49-42 percent. Rubio has a higher approval rating (54-35 percent) than his Democratic counterpart, Sen. Bill Nelson (45-30 percent).
Quinnipiac also found 84 percent of respondents favor legalizing medical marijuana, compared to 14 percent who oppose it. A constitutional amendment to that effect failed despite garnering nearly 58 percent support because it failed to meet the state's 60-percent amendment threshold. A new amendment is in the works for the 2016 ballot, with a different wording than what the pollsters used in their survey, making an apples-to-apples comparison impossible.
According to the poll, outright marijuana legalization -- not just for medical uses -- is supported 55-42 percent.