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Candidates canvass PA in final effort to reach voters

Monday, November 01, 2010

By James O’Toole, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Consider the plight of the candidate.

Dan Onorato walked from table to table, amid the breakfast smells of Pamela’s, but he didn’t have time to pause for a single pancake.

Mr. Onorato, the Democratic candidate for governor, joined Sen. Bob Casey in working the breakfast crowd at the Strip District landmark as he entered the final hours of his race for governor, seeking that last vote that months of campaigning and $19 million in spending might have left unsecured.

“This is the part of the campaign that’s fun,” the Allegheny County executive said. “Getting that vote out.”

As he patrolled the crowd in the fast-filling restaurant, his rival, Tom Corbett, was working to convert or inspire the congregations at a succession of African-American churches in Philadelphia. The GOP nominee followed his morning rites with a rally in Bucks County, where he joined his running mate, Bucks County Commissioner Jim Cawley. Then, he planned to head back across the city line for a stop with Philadelphia firefighters.

Pat Toomey, the Republican nominee for U.S. senator, was working the Philadelphia area as well, with scheduled stops at rallies in Bucks and Delaware counties. Those communities are part of the vote-rich ring of suburbs that has trended Democratic over the last decade. But Mr. Toomey and Mr. Corbett are optimistic that this year they will revert to the GOP majorities that they produced for most of the last century.

Mr. Toomey and Mr. Corbett were to appear together at the Bucks rally, along with former Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, who is trying to grab the area’s congressional seat back from Rep. Pat Murphy, the Democrat who ousted him two elections ago.

Rep. Joe Sestak, who spent Saturday night seeking last-minute support amid the student bars and restaurants of Oakland, was also concentrating on the southeastern part of the state on Sunday, as Democrats frantically tried to convince their base voters to resist the turnout erosion typical of non-presidential years. Among other stops, Mr. Sestak planned to kick off a get-out-the-vote canvass at his Bucks headquarters in Doylestown, the Bucks County seat.

As Mr. Casey entered Pamela’s Sunday morning, he and Mr. Onorato made small talk about the election’s finishing sprint.

“Philadelphia’s starting to hum,” said Mr. Onorato.

“Yesterday was a good day,” Mr. Casey assented, referring to the Temple University rally in North Philadelphia where they had joined President Barack Obama in one more event goading potential voters to show up on Tuesday. While Mr. Onorato headed east, Mr. Casey remained behind for a series of stops designed to boost the Democratic turnout in Pittsburgh. He greeted early Halloween revelers in a walking tour of East Carson Street bars and coffee shops, gave an impromptu speech at a Democratic phone bank in East Liberty, and knocked on doors and passed out campaign fliers in Morningside and Mt. Lebanon before heading to an evening rally in Aliquippa. At each stop he offered the same message, one repeated across the commonwealth and the nation by activists of both parties: make sure you and everyone you know goes to the polls Tuesday.

First lady Michelle Obama was to underscore that message in another Philadelphia appearance today, while former President Bill Clinton planned to appear with Mr. Onorato at the Penn State campus in McKeesport.

The Republican statewide candidates planned to start their November with a flyaround of the state, starting in Philadelphia and moving on to other joint appearances in Scranton, Harrisburg, Johnstown, Erie and Coraopolis.

The frenetic closing arguments came as polls continued to show leads for both GOP candidates, albeit with some sign of increased strength for the Democratic contenders. The surveys agreed that the Senate was the closer of the two races. In the latest Muhlenberg tracking poll, Mr. Toomey led Mr. Sestak, 45 percent to 43 percent, a difference within the survey’s margin of error and one unchanged since the previous day’s tracking poll.

In the governor’s race, Mr. Corbett was up 48 percent to 41 percent. Other recent surveys have consistently found similar leads for the attorney general.

A spokesman for the Onorato campaign noted, however, that when all registered voters are included, as opposed to those deemed most likely to actually cast a ballot, both Democrats have polled ahead in several of the latest surveys.

A Marist/McClatchy poll released over the weekend found Mr. Corbett leading among likely voters, 51 to 44 percent. But the same poll found that among all voters, the race was essentially tied, with 45 percent for Mr. Onorato and 44 percent for Mr. Corbett. Similarly, a Reuters/Ipsos survey released last week showed the Republican leading 49 percent to 43 percent among those most likely to cast a ballot. But balanced against that showing of greater Republican strength was the finding that if all registered voters went to the polls, Mr. Onorato would lead 46 percent to 43 percent.

Another potentially bright spot for the Democrats was the fact that the Muhlenberg analysis of who is likely to vote has been trending slightly in a Democratic direction in recent days. The Muhlenberg tracking results, released daily since Oct. 20, are based on a rolling four-day sample of interviews. In addition to voter history, one of the components of three-step likely voter screen is the respondent’s own assessment of how sure they are that they will vote. Only those who say that it is “definite” or “very likely” that they will turn out are included in their universe of likely voters.

On most days since the first Muhlenberg poll release on Oct. 20, Republicans have been tied or ahead among the number of interviews that ended up in the likely voter category. Those results are consistent with the widely reported observation that Republicans are more intense in their voting interest this year. On Friday and Saturday, however, the proportions of Democrats for the first time exceeded the GOP share. It was 47 percent Democratic and 45 percent Republican on Saturday and 48 percent Democratic and 44 percent Republican in the Oct. 31 release. In a state with a sizable Democratic registration advantage, those percentages still reflected disproportionate GOP voting intensity, but the shift suggested at least some late increase in Democratic interest in voting.

Politics Editor James O’Toole: jotoole@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1562.

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