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Poll: Republican incumbent Rick Scott trails Charlie Crist in Florida governor’s race

Crist, the Sunshine State’s former governor, also calls for ending U.S. embargo against Cuba

MIAMI (CFP) — Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist holds a small lead over Republican Governor Rick Scott in the Florida governor’s race, according to two recent polls.

Democratic challenger Charlie Crist

Democratic challenger Charlie Crist

And in a turnabout likely to draw the ire of the state’s influential Cuban-American community, Crist now says he thinks the U.S. embargo against Cuba, in place since 1962, ought to be lifted.

“The embargo has done nothing in more than 50 years to change the regime in Cuba,” Crist said in a statement, adding that “if we want to bring democracy to Cuba, we need to encourage American values and investment there.”

Just four years ago, when Crist was making a unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate, he supported the embargo. Scott immediately pounced on Crist’s change of heart, which he first announced in a response to a question from television satirist Bill Maher.

Florida Governor Rick Scott

Florida Governor Rick Scott

“Our nation is great because we were built on a foundation of freedom and democracy,” Scott said. ” That is not true in Cuba, and we should not pretend it is. The importance of maintaining the embargo is that it stands for the Cuban people’s right to be free.”

In his interview with Maher, Crist agreed with Maher that more Florida politicians need to stand up to the Cuban-American community, a remark Scott called “insulting.”

A February 5 poll by the University of Florida found Crist leading Scott 47 percent to 40 percent in a head-to-head matchup. A poll from Quinniapiac University released January 30 gave Crist a slightly larger lead, 46 percent to 38 percent.

Scott, 61, a multimillionaire health care entrepreneuer, narrowly won the governorship four years ago. Crist, 57, served as governor as a Republican from 2007 to 2011. He gave up the office to run for the U.S. Senate as an independent, losing to Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio. Crist later became a Democrat.

Crist faces a primary challenge from Nan Rich, a former Democratic state senator, who, alluding to Crist’s often changing political affiliations, styles herself as the “one true Democrat” in the race.

There has also been speculation that Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson might run against Crist for governor. However, Nelson has distanced himself from that speculation, saying he has no plans to leave the Senate.

The University of Florida poll found that Nelson also leads Scott in a hypothetical matchup, while both the UF poll and Quinniapiac polls found that Scott leads Rich when they are compared head-to-head.

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