Before declaring himself as an independent, Rasmussen repeatedly polled the Florida Senate general election race with Charlie Crist running in that position — and consistently found him trailing Marco Rubio and Kendrick Meek in a three-way race.  However, in the immediate aftermath of his renouncement of the Republican Party, Rasmussen finds Crist leading both candidates.  Is this the start of a fresh look at Crist, or a high-water mark based on novelty?

The Florida Senate race appears to be a whole new ballgame with Republican Governor Charlie Crist’s decision to run as an independent.

A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Florida Voters finds Crist earning 38% support to Republican Marco Rubio’s 34% and Democrat Kendrick Meek’s 17%. Eleven percent (11%) are undecided.

Two weeks ago, before Crist announced his decision to run as an independent candidate, Rubio held a seven point advantage in the race.

Since then, Crist has gained eight (8) percentage points in the poll while Rubio and Meek have each dropped three (3) points. It remains to be seen if this is a temporary bounce or a lasting change in the race.

That is, of course, the big question.  The crosstabs give some idea how it may play out, however.  Support for repeal of ObamaCare is especially high in Florida, with 62% favoring it.  Fifty-six percent of independents support the idea of repeal.  Crist has not backed the repeal effort, at least not publicly and not to the extent that Rubio has committed to it.  Yet the current split among independents for the Senate race has 40% going to Crist, 28% to Rubio, and 11% to Meek, with 21% unsure.  Unless Crist turns into a Tea Partier himself — something he wouldn’t do while running as a Republican — those independents won’t stick around long with Crist.

Offshore drilling will be another key point.  Last week, Crist publicly renounced his support for off-shore drilling in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico spill, but voters didn’t follow Crist’s lead.  Overall, off-shore drilling enjoys a plurality of support from likely Florida voters, 48/35, and even more pronounced among independents, 47/29.   If Crist maintains his opposition to off-shore drilling, expect those independents to come back to Rubio as well.

Rasmussen offered two other interesting questions that directly relates to Crist’s decision to dump the GOP label.  That would make sense if voters thought that the primary system was broken or that a third party was desperately needed — but neither are true.  A majority believe that primaries work, 56% to just 19% who don’t, with independents going 46/19 on the question.  Fifty-five percent of all likely Florida voters don’t believe a third party is needed, with independents splitting 41% against just 37% who support a third party.  That’s not even considering whether Crist would be the kind of leader a third party needs in Florida, a question Rasmussen didn’t ask.

This looks like a novelty bump, not a trend that will last much longer.  Independents may have hailed a little competition in the race, but they’re more politically aligned with Rubio than with the man who had been the establishment candidate in the Republican primary. (h/t: HA reader Randy S)