JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A new poll by the Public Opinion Research Laboratory at the University of North Florida commissioned by WJXT/News4Jax finds former Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford with a commanding lead in the Republican race for the congressional seat representing Nassau and most of Duval and St. Johns counties.
The poll of likely Republican voters finds 30.8 percent would vote for Rutherford, with Hans Tanzler is in second place with 12.7 percent, and state Rep. Lake Ray in third place with 9.5 percent. St. Johns County Commissioner Bill McClure holds fourth place with 4.7 percent, Ed Malin garnered 2.5 percent, Stephen Kaufman 1.5 percent and Deborah Katz Pueschel 0.7 percent.
"There is very little change from the poll last month, and there is still a great deal of uncertainty in this primary,” UNF faculty director Dr. Michael Binder said. "Nassau and St. Johns counties have almost 10 percentage points higher of ‘don’t know’ responses, which isn’t surprising since six of the seven candidates have roots in Duval County.”
The number of those surveyed who were undecided remains high -- 37.7 percent -- although 9 points lower than it was in the previous UNF poll conducted in June.
"Thirty-seven percent -- that's a huge chunk of the election. I think it said there were folks who haven't tuned in yet or haven't quite paid attention to make up their mind. And it's not surprising, but it's a lot of people. It makes you wonder what these folks are thinking about when they ultimately do decide to vote," Binder said.
UNF Public Opinion Research Laboratory poll
The Republican race to take the seat of retiring U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw has been subject to some negative television advertising. The winner of the primary will face Democrat David Bruderly and NPA candidate Gary Koniz in November.
“Rutherford has maintained his lead even as the media campaign has heated up,” Binder said. “The support for both Tanzler and Ray is relatively unchanged from last month, despite the potential of so many undecided voters. McClure has greater support in his home county of St. Johns than in the other counties in the district.”
The number of undecided voters may provide some hope for candidates not in the lead, Binder said, even with the election just weeks away.
"I guess it's possible. And if you are one of the other six candidates, that's what you're hoping for. I think it's pretty unlikely that you have a handicap in this race. Rutherford is a strong favorite. And it would be a monumental upset at this point. But, I mean, you never know," Binder said.
The telephone poll of 600 registered Republican likely voters was conducted Aug. 4-8 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.
WJXT and the Jacksonville University Public Policy Institute have partnered to present a debate between the leading candidates in this race at 8 p.m. Wednesday. It will be televised on Channel 4 and streamed live on News4Jax.com.
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