For months, it's been widely considered one of the most competitive House races in the country. But much of that speculation focused on fundraising tallies and previous races, not on hard polling data.
Now, the numbers are in.
Independent Washington pollster RT Strategies has released the first poll since the race in Florida's 22nd District boiled down to Democrat Ron Klein and Republican incumbent Rep. Clay Shaw. The verdict: The race is tight but not nearly as tight as many had predicted.
Shaw holds an 8-percentage-point lead over his challenger, with a margin of error of 3 percentage points. "Shaw's got a statistically significantly lead," says pollster Thomas Riehle, "but there's plenty of time for that to change."
The same survey also shows President Bush with a 48 percent approval rating in this south Florida district, far higher than in other areas where incumbent Republicans face major challenges. Bush's popularity, which in this heavily Jewish district is strongly tied to his support for Israel, may be undermining Klein's overarching strategy of tying Shaw to national Republican woes.
In a number of his ads, Klein has made hay of the fact that Shaw received more than $1 million in fundraising from visits by President Bush and Vice President Cheney while pointing out that he has voted with the administration 90 percent of the time. "If you're going to be a Democrat who built his campaign on tying your opponent to Bush, this would be one of the least promising House districts in which to undertake that strategy," Riehle says.
South Florida political scientist Dan Smith disagrees, noting that Shaw is painting himself as an independent despite his voting record. "I think [the strategy] can be effective in terms of Shaw speaking out of both sides of his mouth," Smith says. Shaw may be helped by the Republicans' generally strong support of Israel, "but things like the prescription drug benefit and Social Security are two issues that play very big in this elderly, white, affluent district," Smith says.
Klein told the Florida Sun Sentinel earlier this week he's sticking with his strategy. "People are very upset about what's going on in Washington," Klein said. "They clearly feel like people aren't listening, that the country is going down the wrong road."