MIAMI - After months of polls showing a virtual dead heat, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson has opened up a sizable 7-point lead on Gov. Rick Scott in a new survey released Tuesday by Quinnipiac University.
Conducted Thursday through Monday, the poll found 53 percent of likely voters backed Nelson while 46 percent favored Scott in one of the most closely watched Senate races in the country. The last poll of the Florida Senate race by Quinnipiac University released on Sept. 5 found the candidates were deadlocked -- each garnering 49 percent of the vote.
Another poll released Tuesday from NBC News and Marist shows Nelson with a 3-percentage point lead among likely voters. Nelson's lead jumped to 5 percentage points among all voters.
Most previous polls, including a Reuters/Ipsos/University of Virginia Center for Politics survey conducted last week, showed the race basically tied.
However, in recent weeks, protesters have dogged Scott at campaign events, criticizing his handling of environmental issues in the state. This summer, a red tide algae bloom has wreaked havoc on the state's west coast, killing thousands of fish and befouling beaches. The protesters fault Scott for not doing enough to protect Florida's coasts and waterways from pollution, particularly from the sugar industry.
Meanwhile, questions have been raised about Scott's finances. Before he was elected governor, Scott was a wealthy business executive. News reports have suggested that Scott may have obscured the extent of his wealth and his investments.
For his part, Nelson has increased his visibly among voters, airing more campaign ads across Florida.
National trends may also be at work in the tight race. An NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll released this week by showed voters preferred Democrats to Republicans in the midterm elections by 12 percent points.
Last week in a rare move, Scott publicly bucked President Donald Trump. Scott shot down a claim by Trump that the death toll after Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico was inflated by Democrats to make him look bad. Thousands of Puerto Ricans have moved to Florida in recent years, making them a sought-after voting bloc.
Republicans have been confident that Scott could unseat Nelson, helping the party increase its majority in the upper chamber of Congress. However, in recent weeks, political analysts have raised the possibility that Democrats could take control of the Senate -- a scenario considered unthinkable a few months ago.
If Nelson's lead in Tuesday polls carries over into other surveys, it could spell trouble for Republican hopes to maintain the Senate majority.
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