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PoliticsPA: Week’s polls draw debate in Senate race

By Alex Irwin
PoliticsPA Contributor

While public polls continue to show strong leads for the Republican candidates in the two statewide races, two polls released by Democrats suggest the race for Pennsylvania’s open Senate seat may be tightening.

A Rasmussen poll released yesterday put Republican candidate Pat Toomey up by 10 points over Democrat Joe Sestak in the Senate race, 49 percent to 39 percent. As a result, Rasmussen has moved the race from “Leans GOP” to “Solid GOP” in its Election 2010 Senate Balance of Power rankings. Ray Zaborney, a political strategist for State Street Strategies, said time is running out for Sestak to close that gap.

“After the primary, Toomey had a 10-point lead. They spent millions of dollars on both sides, and Toomey has a 10-point lead,” Zaborney said. “It seems to be push and pull. The race has stayed pretty much the same.”

But two internal polls conducted by Democrats this week tell a different story. In one poll from Bennett, Petts and Normington, conducted for the campaign, Sestak leads Toomey 46 percent to 45 percent with a 3.5 percent margin of error. A second poll, conducted by Garin-Hart-Yang for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has Sestak up 44 percent to 42 percent.

“The more Pennsylvanians learn about the former Wall Street derivatives trader Pat Toomey, the more support Joe Sestak receives,” said Pennsylvania Democratic spokesman Mark Nicastre in a release.

But Nachama Soloveichik, director of communications for the Toomey campaign, said an overwhelming majority of recent polls confirm Toomey’s solid lead.

“You can believe the last 16 different independent polls that show Toomey ahead, or you can believe one Democratic Party poll that shows Sestak ahead. This is just an attempt to generate enthusiasm for Joe Sestak’s failing campaign,” Soloveichik said.

The next real chance for either candidate to shake things up is the first televised debate scheduled for next Wednesday in Philadelphia. Zaborney said Toomey’s ability to maintain a consistent message should help him protect his lead.

“If you’re the front runner, all you want to do is put your head down and get through the debates without making any mistakes.”

While the Senate race is buzzing with the conflicting polls, the gubernatorial race remains largely unchanged. Republican Tom Corbett has maintained his 10-point lead over Democrat Dan Onorato, with a Magellan poll released Thursday showing that candidates at 48 percent and 38 percent.

The Congressional race for Joe Sestak’s vacant seat in the seventh district, meanwhile, has seen some motion. Two polls released this week show a statistical tie between Democrat Bryan Lentz and Republican Pat Meehan. Numbers released by The Hill Wednesday show Meehan leading Lentz by one point, 40 percent to 39 percent. A Franklin & Marshall poll released yesterday has Meehan up 34 to 31 percent among likely voters.

Zaborney said Lentz maybe be making up some ground to Meehan in name recognition, but added Meehan still has the edge in cash-on-hand.

“Pat Meehan has always had an advantage with name recognition, which helped him get a little lead early on. But I think the campaign has always expected it to tighten and be a close race, and that’s what we’re seeing.”

Independent Jim Schneller continues to draw attention in that race, but polling numbers indicate the conservative is having little impact on the battle for the suburban Philadelphia district. In the F&M poll, Schneller only has three percent of voters leaning toward one candidate, despite the fact that eight percent of respondents said they’re registered Independent.

Wide margins persist in the race between Republican challenger Lou Barletta and Democratic incumbent Paul Kanjorski in the northeastern part of the state. Barletta leads Kanjorski by seven points, 47 percent to 40 percent, among likely voters in a separate F&M poll released Monday.

One sliver of hope for Kanjorski and other trailing Democrats: A Pew Research Center report released Wednesday found that polls that omit cellular phone numbers continue to slightly favor Republicans, and suggested that the margins in the 2010 elections may even be larger than the demonstrated gap in 2008 races.

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