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GOP turnout key in Pennsylvania governor's race, experts say

HARRISBURG — A final month of TV advertising and successfully getting voters to the polls Nov. 2 are among the keys to becoming Pennsylvania's next governor, experts say.

The race between Democrat Dan Onorato and Republican Tom Corbett remains in play, although national and state trends favor the GOP candidate, said Steve Peterson, a political science professor at Penn State University's Harrisburg campus.

"I am not normally of the view that a TV ad can be a game changer," Peterson said. But Rep. Joe Sestak's "jaw-dropping" primary campaign ad showing incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter talking about changing political parties to win re-election helped Sestak win the Democratic nomination for Senate. That indicates Onorato could make up ground or Corbett could put the race away with an ad.

Polls in late September showed Corbett with an average lead of 8.4 percentage points, according to RealClearPolitics.com . A poll by Susquehanna Polling and Research for the Tribune-Review last week showed Corbett leading by 6 percentage points. A Susquehanna poll in June had Corbett up by 10, said Jim Lee, the company president.

Some undecided Democrats moved to support Onorato when they became familiar with him through TV ads, Lee said.

"At the end of the day, Republicans don't carry this state by big margins," Lee said. "It sounds cliche, but it really does come down to (Election Day) turnout."

With the election four weeks from Tuesday, both campaigns will concentrate on identifying core supporters. To encourage voters, they'll consult lists provided by interest groups such as businesses and organized labor, and follow through with mail, e-mails and phone calls.

Democrats hold a voter registration edge of 1.2 million over Republicans in Pennsylvania, where voters have backed Democratic presidential candidates since 1992. But there's no question data suggest Republicans are more likely to vote this November, Lee said.

"Obviously, we need to mobilize our supporters throughout the state and get them out Election Day," said Brian Herman, a spokesman for Onorato.

With two Western Pennsylvania candidates — Onorato from Brighton Heights and Corbett from Shaler — there's a lack of enthusiasm in Philadelphia, the state's largest Democratic voting bloc, said Larry Ceisler, a former Democratic consultant and partner of Ceisler Jubelirer, a public relations firm in Philadelphia.

"I think it's Corbett's election to lose," Ceisler said.

"Onorato has been playing catch-up, and Corbett has set the tone of the election," said David Chambers, a political science professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Both camps say independent voters, who make up about 10 percent of the electorate, could swing the election in a close race.

Dissatisfaction with Washington primarily is driving anticipated GOP turnout, said Wesley McDonald, a political science professor at Elizabethtown College in Lancaster County. Many people are intent on delivering a message to Congress and the Obama administration about the $814 billion stimulus legislation, the national debt and high taxes. As a Democrat, Onorato suffers from "guilt by association," McDonald said.

And there is "anger and despair" about the job climate, he said.

But angst over jobs is what Onorato hopes to seize upon; his campaign made creating and protecting jobs its cornerstone.

It's also the year of Tea Party voters.

"The Tea Party is an important part of the electorate," said Kevin Harley, a Corbett spokesman. "They're very energized."

Corbett's message of less government will "resonate not only with Tea Party members but Republicans, independents and Democrats," Harley said.

The candidates debated in Hershey last week before the state Chamber of Business and Industry and are scheduled to debate two more times, including Oct. 16 in Pittsburgh. Onorato says he is the candidate with the resume and experience to create jobs. Corbett says he'll slash bloated state spending and won't raise taxes.

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