Sen. Pat Toomey probably thought he had a good 12 to 18 months before the first public poll on his re-election odds.
But a survey from Quinnipiac, released today, puts him head-to-head with Joe Sestak, the former Navy Admiral and former Congressman who lost to Toomey in 2010.
Toomey leads Sestak 42% to 37%. It’s wider than the 51% to 49% edge Toomey earned over Sestak at the ballot box in 2010.
Toomey stays ahead because of a 10 point lead among independents and his ability to peel off 13% of Democrats. In southeast Pa., which includes Sestak’s base in Delaware County and Toomey’s base in the Lehigh Valley, the Republican runs ahead 42% to 41%.
That said, the poll portends a tough re-election battle. Sestak has been out of office for 2 and a half years. Just 41% of respondents had an opinion of him (26% favorable, 15% unfavorable). Yet he still came within the margin of error.
Men go to Toomey 51% to 31%; women favor Sestak 42% to 34%.
Toomey’s approval rating is positive, 46% to 29%. That’s possibly due to his high-profile, bipartisan push for background checks for gun purchases. 54% of respondents said that move made them view him more favorably versus just 10% who said it lowered their opinion of the Senator. Even respondents who said they had a gun in their households improved their view of Toomey, 44% to 15%.
Quinnipiac University surveyed 1,032 registered voters via live interviews on land lines and cell phones from May 30 to June 4. The margin of error is +/- 3.1%.
Sestak surprised the political world when he unexpectedly raised half a million dollars in the first quarter of this year. He announced in May that he had formed an exploratory committee for Senate.
The challenge would be the first U.S. Senate rematch in Pa. history.