TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – With Democrat Patrick Murphy making gains among independent voters, Republican incumbent Marco Rubio's lead in Florida's closely watched U.S. Senate race has narrowed to two points, according to a poll released Tuesday.
Rubio leads by a margin of 49 percent to 47 percent in the Quinnipiac University poll, which was conducted before the candidates battled in a televised debate Monday night. The two-point difference is within the poll's margin of error.
Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, pointed to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's "slipping" poll numbers in analyzing tight U.S. Senate races involving Rubio and other GOP candidates, such as U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.
"For the most part, these Republican Senate candidates, including Marco Rubio in Florida and Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, will need to run ahead of the party's presidential ticket in order to get re-elected," Brown said in comments released with the poll results.
Murphy has repeatedly tried to tie Rubio to Trump, who has been engulfed in controversy because of vulgar comments about women and allegations that he kissed and groped women against their will.
During the debate Monday night at the University of Central Florida, Murphy challenged Rubio's continued endorsement of Trump.
"This isn't just a binary choice, and there are people that have the courage to stand up and do what is best," Murphy said. "You do have to look your children in the eye, in 10 to 15 years from now, and explain this position."
Rubio, who has criticized Trump, replied that his children are why he has maintained his support for Trump against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
"She will redefine the Supreme Court in a way that will redefine the Constitution of the United States for the better part of a quarter-century," Rubio said.
A Quinnipiac poll released Oct. 5 showed Rubio leading by four percentage points, while a September poll gave him a seven-point lead. At least part of the narrowing of the race has stemmed from Murphy picking up support from independent voters --- the new poll gave him a slight edge, 47 percent to 46 percent, among independents after he trailed with those voters in the earlier polls.
The outcome of the Rubio-Murphy race could help determine which party controls the U.S. Senate after the Nov. 8 elections. Brown said Rubio's ability to receive support from 33 percent of non-white voters has helped buoy his campaign.
"Sen. Marco Rubio's upper hand in a too-close-to-call race is at least partially due to his scoring better than most GOP candidates among non-white voters," Brown said. "His third of the minority vote is largely due to his Cuban heritage. If he wins, that will be a lesson for the GOP going forward."
The Connecticut-based Quinnipiac, which frequently conducts polls in Florida and other swing states, surveyed 660 likely Florida voters from Oct. 10 to Sunday. The poll has a margin of error of 3.8 percentage points.