Pennsylvania voter poll: Kasich climbs into dead heat with Trump

Tom Fontaine
| Thursday, March 24, 2016, 7:51 a.m.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich has come from nowhere in the polls to make Pennsylvania's presidential race for the Republican nomination a toss-up between him and billionaire businessman Donald Trump, a survey released Thursday showed.

“People are starting to hear my message,” said Kasich, a McKees Rocks native, in a phone interview with the Tribune-Review while campaigning in Wisconsin.

The Franklin & Marshall College poll said Trump is supported by 33 percent of Pennsylvania's registered Republicans, followed by Kasich at 30 percent and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz at 20 percent. The poll's margin of error for Republican voters is plus or minus 5.4 percentage points, making the April 26 primary race too close to predict.

The poll showed that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is widening her lead in the Democratic presidential race. Former congressman Joe Sestak leads in the Democrats' four-way race to challenge U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh Valley.

By wide margins, Pennsylvanians continue to think the state is “off on the wrong track” and that the government and its politicians are the state's biggest problems, the poll showed.

Kasich's biggest problem has been getting noticed in a crowded GOP field that once included 17 candidates.

As recently as January, just 3 percent of Pennsylvania Republicans supported Kasich, placing him in a distant seventh place, the poll showed. By February, he moved into third place with support from 15 percent of Pennsylvania Republicans.

“There is no doubt this is a huge rise,” said pollster G. Terry Madonna, director of Franklin & Marshall's Center for Politics and Public Affairs, which conducted the poll of 828 registered voters.

“Given the nature of the Republican vote in this state, which is more conservative to moderate, I'm not surprised,” Madonna said.

Kasich leads by at least 10 percentage points among slightly liberal and moderate Republicans and voters who have a college degree. Those who earn at least $75,000 a year also lean toward Kasich, the poll showed.

Southeast Pennsylvania is a stronghold for Kasich. The region has a large contingent of moderate Republicans who, as a group, tend to be more liberal on social issues such as gun rights, gay marriage and abortion, Madonna said. Kasich also has a slight lead in his native Allegheny County.

“I'm hoping I can carry McKees Rocks,” Kasich joked.

Trump leads by at least 10 percentage points in several demographic groups, including Republicans who have some college education or less, earn less than $35,000 a year, are up to age 54 and are non-white. Trump's campaign did not return a message.

“Those (findings) look like they came from the exit polls from other industrial states” that have already held primary contests, such as Ohio, Michigan and Massachusetts, Kasich said.

Pennsylvania has 71 delegates at stake, but the primary winner does not collect all of them. A complicated process allocates the delegates.

Mathematically, it's impossible for Kasich to win enough delegates to secure the GOP nomination before the Republican National Convention in July in Cleveland. He's won 143 so far, compared with Trump's 739 and Cruz's 465. Cruz would need to win 83 percent of the remaining delegates to overtake the front-running Trump before the convention, while Trump needs to win 54 percent of the remaining delegates to win the nomination.

The nominee needs 1,237 delegates.

Kasich is banking on a contested convention in which multiple ballots of the GOP delegates are needed to determine a nominee.

The last time a nominee in either party was decided after multiple ballots was in 1952, when Adlai Stevenson received the Democratic nomination. He went on to lose to Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower.

“We have to pick up some more delegates and go into the convention with some momentum” to make a strong case to delegates, Kasich said. He didn't say how many delegates that might require. To date, he's won only Ohio, a state he represented for nine terms in Congress and now serves as governor.

Kasich pointed to a Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday that showed he would defeat Democrats Clinton and Bernie Sanders in a November race, while Trump and Cruz both would lose to the Democrats.

“What's the point if you win the party's nomination and then get crushed in November? I think I can pull the crossover votes that (Trump and Cruz) can't,” Kasich said.

The Associated Press contributed. Tom Fontaine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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