Jeff Brandes still up double digits in SD 24 re-election battle

Florida Politics

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St. Pete Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes is sitting pretty a month out from Election Day according to a new poll of his contest against Democratic nominee Lindsay Cross.

A new St. Pete Polls survey, commissioned by Florida Politics, found the longtime lawmaker with an 11-point lead over Cross, 52-41 percent with the remaining 7 percent of voters in the Pinellas County district unsure how they’ll vote come November.

The fresh poll, conducted Oct. 6 and 7, shows a marked decrease in undecided voters from St. Pete Polls’ previous measure. That poll, released in mid-August, showed Brandes with a 39-19 percent lead over Cross, putting them both behind “undecided,” which accounted for 42 percent of likely voters.

Brandes’ lead skyrockets among the one-in-seven voters who said they had already cast their ballot. That crowd preferred the U.S. Army veteran by a 32 percent margin, though 6 percent of them said they were “undecided” — whether that means the SD 24 contest will present a bundle of undervotes or that the Pinellas electorate is suffering from memory loss is unclear.

The race was tighter among those who said they hadn’t voted yet but that they planned on making it to the polls, with Brandes pulling an even 50 percent of the vote to Cross’ 42 percent.

Other good news for Brandes: 51 percent of likely SD 24 voters said they had a favorable view of President Donald Trump, giving him a plus-6 favorability rating within the boundaries of the southern Pinellas seat. That rating represents a 1 percentage point drop from the margin-of-victory SD 24 voters handed Trump in the 2016 presidential election.

Brandes also scored high marks among his constituents, who see him favorably by a 49-27 percent margin. He fared even better among those who’ve already ticked a box, earning a plus-39 percent favorability rating. Those who haven’t voted yet look poised to stay the course as well. They see the incumbent positively by a 19-point margin.

The St. Pete Republican also got a boost on Monday by way of an endorsement from FMA PAC, the political arm of the Florida Medical Association.

“The FMA PAC is proud to endorse Senator Jeff Brandes for re-election. We’ve worked closely with him during his time in the House and Senate and we look forward to continuing our work to ensure Florida patients have the very best health care,” said committee president Mike Patete.

Cross, meanwhile, is improving but still treading water when it comes to name ID. She earned a plus-5 favorability rating overall; a minus-8 among early voters; and a plus 8 among those who’ve yet to vote.

In each instance, however, more than a quarter of respondents said they didn’t know enough to have an opinion on Cross, who recently left as executive director of the Florida Wildlife Corridor.

Brandes’ lead is partially attributable to his strong support among Republicans and independent voters, whom he leads 81-15 percent and 47-42 percent, respectively. The Democratic base isn’t as keen on Cross — 70 percent of Dem voters said they would back her, but a fifth say they’re on Team Brandes.

Further down the poll, Brandes holds a clear lead among nearly every slice of the electorate. He holds a 16-point lead among non-Hispanic white voters, who make up 90 percent of the voting age population according to U.S. Census data. He also edges out Cross among men, women, Millennials, Gen Xers, Boomers and older voters.

SD 24 covers most of southern Pinellas County except for the tip of the peninsula, which is included in neighboring SD 19. According to the most recent bookclosing report published by the Florida Division of Elections, Republicans hold a 4-point advantage in voter registrations within the district, which voted in favor of Barack Obama twice before going for Trump in 2016.

Cross entered the race at the end of July, a few weeks after Florida Democrat’s prior pick, trial lawyer Carrie Pilonwithdrew from the contest due to the unexpected health problems of a close family member. During her brief tenure in the race, Pilon worked up from a 9-point deficit in late May to within striking distance by early July.

Though Cross had a lot of ground to gain in name recognition, she’s also been vastly outraised by Brandes, who has raised nearly $919,000 in hard money, including $300,000 from his personal fortune. Adding in the $433,000 he has socked away in his political committee, Liberty Florida, Brandes had $858,000 left to spend on Sept. 28.

Cross, meanwhile, only just broke the six-figure mark for her campaign account and had about $65,000 banked through the same date.

The St. Pete Polls survey received 770 responses from registered voters within SD 24’s borders and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

Election Day is Nov. 6.

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