In the key swing state of Florida, Sen. Bill Nelson (D) and President Barack Obama appear strong in advance of their 2012 re-election bids more than 18 months before voters go to the polls.
In a new Quinnipiac University Poll, 51 percent of registered voters approved of the way both Obama and Nelson are handling their jobs. In a matchup with an unnamed Republican, Obama led 44 percent to 37 percent, while 12 percent of those polled said their vote depends on who the GOP candidate is. Nelson led all his potential Republican opponents comfortably, but still garnered less than 50 of the vote in hypothetical matchups.
Name identification appears to be the biggest hurdle for the three top-tier Republican Senate candidates. Among registered Florida Republicans in a hypothetical GOP Senate primary, 14 percent said they would vote for former Sen. George LeMieux, 13 percent supported Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos, and only 4 percent said they would vote for former Florida House Majority Leader Adam Hasner. Sixty-four percent said they don't know who they'd vote for.
Since none of the Republicans are well known statewide, Nelson led matchups with all of them comfortably. Hasner trailed Nelson 48 percent to 23 percent, Haridopolos trailed 47 percent to 26 percent and LeMieux trailed 47 percent to 27 percent.
Florida has 10 media markets, which makes increasing name identification with voters an extremely expensive proposition but not an impossible one. Around this point in 2009, then-Gov. Charlie Crist was leading now-Sen. Marco Rubio 54 percent to 23 percent in a Quinnipiac poll of registered Republicans.
Rubio is still an extraordinarily popular figure among Florida Republicans. While 49 percent of Floridians approved of his job performance, that numbers jumps to 78 percent among Republicans. By comparison, only 66 percent of Democrats approved of Nelson's job performance. Democrats in the Sunshine State say having Obama at the top of the ticket in 2012 will help rally the base to Nelson.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee sees Nelson as one of its top targets in the cycle.
Roll Call Politics rates the Florida Senate race a Tossup. The Quinnipiac University Poll released Thursday had a margin of error of 2.8 points.