Jeb Bush (left) greets Sen.-elect Marco Rubio in November.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is the strong favorite among Republican voters to challenge Sen. Bill Nelson (D) in 2012, a new Public Policy Polling survey shows.
Tom Jensen, director of the Democratic-leaning polling firm, said the findings — 72 percent of GOP voters chose Bush as their preferred candidate — differ from other state surveys in which voters have “no clue” whom they want to challenge the Democratic incumbent.
“With Bush in the equation none of the other options given get any higher than 6% — that’s for perennial candidate Bill McCollum — and once you get past McCollum no one else even tops 3%,” Jensen wrote on the PPP blog.
Bush, President George W. Bush’s brother, won over both conservatives and moderate Republicans in the poll of 400 GOP primary voters taken Dec. 17-20.
If Bush was not a choice, Florida Republican voters liked the following candidates:
Rep. Connie Mack IV, 15 percent; McCollum, 14 percent; outgoing appointed Sen. George LeMieux, 11 percent; state Lt. Gov.-elect Jennifer Carroll, 10 percent; state Senate President Mike Haridopolos, 9 percent; Rep. Vern Buchanan, 7 percent; and state Rep. Adam Hasner, 3 percent.
Jensen added in his blog post that LeMieux has shown “continued incredible weakness ... in pretty much all polling” even though he is one of the likeliest candidates.
“His head start as a Senator for the last year and change has done little to familiarize and endear himself with Florida voters,” Jensen wrote. “In the general election part of this poll he did worse against Nelson than Mack and posted a similar margin to Haridopolos who hasn’t had the incredible platform of a Senate seat already.”
Haridopolos also has expressed interest in seeking the nomination to challenge Nelson.
PPP found Nelson is “ripe for a strong challenge” in a poll of Florida voters taken during the same period. But Nelson leads every head-to-head matchup, save one against Bush.
Bush leads a hypothetical matchup, 49 percent to Nelson’s 44 percent. Among the more likely candidates, Nelson leads Mack 44 percent to 36 percent, LeMieux 47 to 36 percent, Haridopolos 44 percent to 32 percent and Hasner 46 percent to 30 percent.
Update, Dec. 30, 3:20 p.m.:LeMieux is returning to his old Florida law firm, and Nelson already is raising money. Our story here.
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