Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., is now the only statewide elected Democratic official in Florida — meaning he will likely face a stiffer challenge than his opponent in 2006, former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris. But a Public Policy Polling survey (.pdf) shows Nelson with solid favorability ratings for an incumbent, though many statewide still don’t know him since he was first elected to the Senate in 1998.

He owns leads over all of his potential challengers — outgoing Sen. George LeMieux, R-Fla., Rep. Connie Mack, R-Naples, Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, and State House Majority Leader Adam Hasner, R-Delray Beach.

Nelson has a 36/33 favorability spread, though 31 percent have no opinion of him. Just 45 percent of Democrats approve of him, while 19 percent disapprove. However, 23 percent of Republicans do, showing significant crossover appeal. Independents favor him by a solid 42/36 margin.

Nelson’s leads are in part because the possible Republican candidates are still unknowns, with over 50 percent of respondents showing no opinion of all of them.

The Florida Senate race in 2012 is likely to be competitive — but it’s barely started. After all, when Gov. Charlie Crist announced he would run for Senate in May 2009 — over five months later than a comparable time now — he was enormously popular and was an odds-on favorite for the Senate seat.

Luke Johnson reports on Florida for The American Independent.

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