Democratic U.S. Representative Joe Sestak has pulled within two percentage points of former Republican Representative Pat Toomey in the race for a U.S. Senate seat from Pennsylvania, after trailing by seven points a month ago, a poll released today shows.
If the vote were held today, the Quinnipiac University poll shows that 46 percent of likely voters would support Sestak and 48 percent would back Toomey -- within the three-percentage- point margin of error. That makes the race “a statistical dead heat,” according to a statement accompanying the results. A Sept. 22 Quinnipiac poll showed Toomey ahead 50-43 percent.
“Pennsylvania is a blue state and Democrats there have begun to come home,” Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute in Hamden, Connecticut, said in a statement, referring to the state’s frequent preference for Democrats. “Democrats often engage later in the campaign than do Republicans.”
Sestak and Toomey are vying to fill the seat of Arlen Specter, the 80-year-old Republican-turned-Democrat who in the May 2010 primary failed to win his new party’s nomination to hold the seat. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates the race a “tossup.” Republicans need a net gain of 10 seats to take control of the Senate from Democrats.
Toomey, 48, is a former three-term representative from the Lehigh Valley. He lost to Specter, who switched parties in 2009, in the 2004 Republican Senate primary. Sestak, 58, is in his second term representing a House district in the Philadelphia suburbs.
Sestak’s comeback may be driven in part by voters in the Southeastern Pennsylvania area put off by Christine O’Donnell, the Tea-Party backed Republican running for Senate in Delaware, which shares a media market with Philadelphia, said Jennifer Duffy, political analyst at the Cook Political Report, a Washington-based publication that tracks political races.
This “closing” factor is also happening in other Senate races, said Stephen Hess, a Congress scholar at the Brookings Institution, a policy institute in Washington. Democrat Jack Conway is closing the gap with Republican Rand Paul in Kentucky, and Democrat Patty Murray is closing the polling gap with Republican Dino Rossi in Washington State, according to a compilation of polls by Real Clear Politics, a political website.
“For the GOP to win, the Senate requires a clean sweep of 10, which, if this is a trend, means that a Republican majority Senate is highly unlikely,” Hess said in an e-mail message.
“If the Republicans don’t win here, it would be a bad omen for Colorado, a bad omen for West Virginia and a bad omen for Nevada,” said Stuart Rothenberg, editor and publisher of the Rothenberg Political Report, a non-partisan newsletter based in Washington that covers U.S. political campaigns. With a large number of older, white voters in Pennsylvania, “it would say something about the size of the Republican wave if they were to lose here,” Rothenberg said.
President Barack Obama’s approval rating in the state has improved and that may be aiding his party, Brown said, although he noted that it remained “decidedly negative.”
Obama’s approval rating in the current survey rose to 44 percent from 40 percent in Quinnipiac’s Sept. 22 survey, and the percentage of voters who thought he wasn’t doing a good job as president fell to 53 percent from 56 percent, according to the statement.
Sestak is favored by 53 percent of likely female voters, compared with 41 percent for Toomey. The likely male voters surveyed support Toomey over Sestak, 54-40 percent.
Just over half of the voters surveyed -- 51 percent -- say they want their new U.S. senator to oppose, rather than support, Obama’s policies. Forty-five percent of respondents say they want Republicans to control the U.S. Senate next year, while 38 percent back Democratic control, the survey reported.
“There is still a mood in the likely Pennsylvania electorate for change, which appears more likely to help Toomey than Sestak,” Brown said. “Among the 33 percent of likely voters who say they are angry with the federal government, Toomey leads 77-17 percent.”
Quinnipiac surveyed 1,046 likely voters in Pennsylvania from Oct. 13-17. The margin of error is plus or minus three percentage points.
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