Conservative Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio is touting a new poll today, conducted by the often conservative-friendly Rasmussen, that shows him in a tie with Gov. Charlie Crist in the state's Republican Senate primary.

It's the only major poll to put Rubio anywhere near* within single digits of Crist in this race.

In mid-November, Research 2000 (on behalf of Daily Kos), showed Crist up 10 percentage points; in mid-October, Rasmussen and Quinnipiac showed Crist up 14 and 15 points, respectively; earlier in October, McLaughlin & Associates, a Republican firm, showed Crist up by 24 percentage points. See all major polls in the race here.

Perhaps things are trending pro-Rubio in Florida. If we are to believe all these polls, including Rasmussen's most recent, Crist's lead dropped 10 percentage points from October to November, and then another 10 from November to December. The progression is linear.

Or perhaps Rasmussen's numbers are aberrant. We won't really know until more numbers come out from other firms--in the meantime, it's probably best not to take them as cold, hard fact.

But the poll does something pretty significant for Rubio: it generates buzz.

Rasmussen's findings have a way of becoming doctrine in conservative circles, and it's the conservatives of Florida that Rubio is trying to rally. Whether or not Rubio really is running even with Crist, Rasmussen's finding has given him something to brag about--something that will excite Florida conservatives around the idea that Rubio's insurgent campaign is on the verge of becoming the favorite, that the momentum is on their side, and that the once-heavily-favored Crist is indeed vulnerable.

Suddenly it might be worth giving Rubio some dollars, if you're a Florida conservative previously on the fence. Knowing this, Rubio sent out a very brief fundraising email to supporters this morning, announcing the poll results and including a link to Rasmussen's write-up and to the donation page of his own website.

Rasmussen has a track record of producing polls that conservatives like. It consistently rates President Obama lower than many other polls in job approval, and it has a tendency to conduct issue polls on newsy topics, rendering some newsy results, packaging those results (as Gallup does, too) as news. News that conservatives usually like.

The Rubio/Crist poll is an election poll, to be certain, but it might be received like an issue poll: the Florida Republican Senate primary is looked on as a barometer of conservatism vs. centrism in the GOP's ranks, and there's broader news value to the race outside of Florida, and beyond handicapping who will represent the state in the upper chamber in 2011.

Some of that national conservative momentum has died down after Doug Hoffman lost the New York 23rd district special election, but Rasmussen has given conservative Republicans some good news. We'll see if Rubio can capitalize (quite literally) and if other firms support the finding. There's a long way to go before the primary's late date of August 31, 2010.

*Categorizing a 10-percentage-point lead as not "anywhere near" is probably unfair and inaccurate, as a reader points out.

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