updated 10/23/2006 4:49:49 PM ET 2006-10-23T20:49:49

Florida's gubernatorial race between Republican Charlie Crist and Democrat Rep. Jim Davis has narrowed, with the two candidates running just about even, according to a new poll released Monday as early voting began in the state.

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Crist, the state attorney general, had enjoyed double-digit leads in previous polls. The new Quinnipiac University Poll found him favored by 46 percent of likely voters to 44 percent for Davis, with 8 percent undecided. That is within the margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

Eleven percent of respondents indicated they could still change their minds.

Earlier this month, Crist was favored 53 percent to 43 percent in a similar sampling by the Connecticut-based polling institute. Gov. Jeb Bush is prohibited by law from seeking a third consecutive term.

Davis didn't start his television advertising until early October and has made inroads among independent voters and women since then. He led Crist 50 percent to 36 percent among independents in a state where one in five voters is independent. 2006 key races

Assistant poll director Peter Brown said the change in the poll numbers could reflect the new Davis TV ads and "the cumulative effect of the questions about (former U.S. Rep. Mark) Foley, the Republican leadership and general disenchantment of the Bush administration."

The random telephone survey of 816 likely voters was conducted Wednesday to Sunday.

Florida's early voting program was expanded after the botched presidential election in 2000. Officials hoped opening selected polling sites early would keep lines shorter on Election Day.

Voting went smoothly at locations around the state Monday morning, said Florida Division of Elections spokesman Sterling Ivey. In the 2004 general election, 25 percent of Florida voters, or about 1.4 million people, voted early, he said.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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