By Bill Cotterell
TALLAHASSEE, Fla., Oct 22 (Reuters) - Florida Governor Rick Scott and his challenger for re-election, former Governor Charlie Crist, are locked in a dead heat in their race to run the nation's largest swing state, poll results released on Wednesday show.
The Quinnipiac University Poll results show Scott, a Republican, and Crist, a former Republican running as a Democrat, each with 42 percent support, with both candidates struggling with low popularity.
"Mr. Crist and Mr. Scott have spent an awful lot of money figuring out what voters want and don't want," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the poll, at a news conference. "They've come to the conclusion that the best way for them to get elected is to be the lesser of two evils."
Debates between the candidates, most recently on Tuesday, have exposed a wide gulf between them on issues including healthcare, gay marriage, climate change, education and the minimum wage.
A debate controversy in which Scott last week refused to appear on stage for several minutes because of a small fan Crist had beneath his lectern has had no apparent influence on the race, Brown said.
The poll showed Scott's favorable rating at 40 percent, with 48 percent of those surveyed viewing him unfavorably, while Crist had a 42-47 percent like-to-dislike ratio.
Those weak popularity figures are a function in part of months of attack ads that have blanketed the airwaves, Brown said.
With more than 90 percent of those surveyed saying they are unlikely to change their minds before Nov. 4, the race could hinge on whether either candidate can pull significant support from Libertarian candidate Adrian Wyllie, a potential spoiler whose support stands at 7 percent, Brown said.
The poll was conducted Oct. 14 to 20 among 984 likely voters, with an error margin of 3.1 percentage points. (Editing by Jonathan Kaminsky and Jim Loney)