Thursday, October 15, 2009

PA Senate Race: Sestak Pulls Even

With the election roughly eighth months away, it looks like Joe Sestak is gaining on Arlen Specter in the Democratic Senate primary race in Pennsylvania. Pollster's chart looks like this (click on graphs to enlarge):
Image credit: Pollster

but the picture looks different if you just look at polls that count likely voters:
Image credit: Pollster, based on filter criteria from Cujo359

This is a graph of the Rasmussen and DailyKos polls, both of which poll likely voters, and have repeated the poll at intervals in the last few months. This is important, because 2010 is an off-year election, and there is likely to be a substantial difference between registered and actual voters. All of the polls that have been taken repeatedly in this race, whatever their basis, show that the gap is closing between Sestak and Specter. Among likely voters, there are still 11 percent undecided. In all likelihood, these folks know Specter better than they know Sestak, who is now the U.S. Representative for a district in Southeast Pennsylvania.

Specter's numbers are falling similarly among both the general voter population and likely voters. Sestak, on the other hand, appears to be gaining among those voters who are paying attention.

What this tells me is that it's likely that Sestak will win the primary. Of course, a lot has to go right between now and then, but if progressives support him, and the Pennsylvania Democratic establishment doesn't decide to tank him somehow, Sestak has the advantage in this race.

How would Sestak do in the general election? Interestingly, the most recent Rasmussen poll suggests he'd do better than Specter against likely Republican nominee Pat Toomey, as quoted by Pollster:

2010 Senate: General Election
45% Toomey, 40% Specter (chart)
38% Sestak, 37% Toomey (chart)

PA: 2010 Sen (Rasmussen 10/13)

The trend among likely voters in the general election is a bit less promising at the moment. This is what the combined Rasmussen and DKos data looks like for the general election, if it's Toomey vs. Sestak:
Image credit: Pollster, based on filter criteria from Cujo359

Toomey's popularity appears to be increasing, while Sestak's remains static. I have no explanation for this trend, but there are still quite a few undecideds here, which is logical if most Pennsylvanians aren't too familiar with either candidate.

As that Rasmussen poll mentions, there are a couple of other potential problems for Sestak along the way:

The upcoming Senate health care vote could prove crucial for Specter. Sixty-six percent (66%) of Democratic Primary voters favor the so-called “public option” as a part of the health care plan proposed by President Obama and congressional Democrats. Only 21% oppose the creation of a government-run health insurance company to compete with private insurers.

But the “public option” runs dead even when put to all Pennsylvania voters.

Election 2010: Pennsylvania Democratic Senate Primary

And speaking of Democratic establishment help:

Obama held a fundraiser for Specter last month and is expected to campaign for him in Pennsylvania next year. Right now, that gives Specter an important edge since 79% of Democratic Primary voters approve of the president’s job performance, including 55% who strongly approve. Just 21% disapprove, with 13% who strongly disapprove.

Election 2010: Pennsylvania Democratic Senate Primary

Obama is continuing his trend of favoring Democratic conservatives over progressives. At some point, I think it will become clear to his supporters that he's not a progressive. In any event, this is no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention.

It will be a tough race, but at this point the numbers favor Sestak. If he wins the primary, and the Democrats don't completely screw the pooch on health care (as they show every sign of doing), he should win in the general. It's a long way to the primary, though.

UPDATE: It looks like Chris Bowers at OpenLeft agrees with me:

Sestak outperforms Specter in the general election. Lamont may not have won the general election, but Sestak looks well positioned to do so. According to, Sestak does better against Republican frontrunner Pat Toomey than Arlen Specter:

Sestak 38.9%--37.2% Toomey
Toomey 43.0%--41.8% Specter

It is hard to imagine how these numbers improve for Specter, given that he is so well known across the state. Sestak, by contrast, is not only already leading, but has significant room for growth.

Sestak Closes on Specter, Endorsed By Ned Lamont

Bowers lives in Pennsylvania, and so has a much more current view of Pennsylvania politics than I do. As he mentions, Sestak has been endorsed by Ned Lamont, the Connecticut businessman who beat Joe Lieberman in the 2008 primary.

In other news, it appears that Time magazine's Real Clear Politics still sees Toomey as 2 points ahead in the general. Nothing about that causes me to doubt my admittedly cautious predictions. It's pretty congruent with what I found at Pollster, in fact.

No comments: