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Pennsylvania's Senate race in dead heat, poll shows

| Sunday, Oct. 31, 2010

Pennsylvania's Senate race remains deadlocked in its final days, and Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett maintains his lead in the governor's race over Democratic Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, according to a poll conducted for the Tribune-Review.

In the Senate contest, Republican Pat Toomey of Lehigh County leads Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak of Delaware County by a statistically insignificant 2 percentage points, 46 percent to 44 percent, according to the Susquehanna Polling & Research survey. Corbett of Shaler leads Onorato of Brighton Heights by 7 percentage points in the gubernatorial run. The poll of 800 likely voters, conducted Oct. 24-27, has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3.46 percentage points.

"We need a change," said David Riggle, 68, a Republican from Export. He's among 23 percent of Corbett supporters who say they're voting for the Republican to swap party control of the governor's mansion.

"People have been locked in to vote Republican for governor this year," continuing a 56-year-old tradition of swapping parties in the governor's mansion every eight years, said Jim Lee, president of Susquehanna Polling & Research.

Fifty-three percent of the state's voters disapprove of the job Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell is doing, compared to 35 percent who approve. Corbett tried to tie Onorato to Rendell throughout the campaign.

"He never really got out from under that guilt by association," Lee said.

The number of people who hold a negative view of Onorato increased 12 percentage points from Susquehanna's September survey, from 18 percent to 30 percent, while his favorable rating remained steady at 31 percent. The number of people with unfavorable views of Corbett increased from 16 percent to 23 percent, and his favorability increased from 35 percent to 38 percent.

Toomey and Sestak have identical ratings at 35 percent favorable, 33 percent unfavorable. For voters like Denise Horton, the choice for Senate comes down to views on President Obama.

"Sestak would continue moving his agenda; Toomey would not," said Horton, 60, of Erie. She said she's voting straight Democrat this year.

"I'm tired of paying taxes for people sitting on their (behinds). I work over 60 hours a week to pay my bills and get ahead in life," said John Miller, 26, of Elizabethtown. "I'm not a fan of anything that Obama has tried or done. Technically, I'm not even sure the guy's American. I definitely know he's not for the American people."

Republican and Democratic support has hardened along familiar geographic lines, with the GOP expanding its lead in the conservative center and northern tier of the state and Democrats pulling ahead in the Philadelphia suburbs and the Northeast, where Sestak and Onorato have concentrated their campaigns.

"That needed to happen for (Sestak) to stay in the game," Lee said. "If he comes out of Philadelphia and the suburbs with a decent lead, he's in the hunt for this thing."

Aiding Republicans are voters like Penny Kurisko, 54, of Dunmore. A lifelong Democrat, she said she's "unsatisfied with everything that has come out of Washington for years. ... I am disgusted."

A full-time caregiver with a degree in information technology, Kurisko wants to work in the health-care industry but opposes the health-care overhaul Congress passed in March.

Obama won the state by more than 10 percentage points in 2008, and he has returned several times to the Philadelphia area to rally voters like Tilli Simmons, 67, of Philadelphia.

"We didn't vote for Obama, and the day he was inaugurated, the stack of cards fell down. The cards were falling," Simmons said. "I need somebody who's going to help Obama do what he thinks is the right thing."

Forty-one percent of likely voters approve of the job Obama is doing, compared to 50 percent who disapprove.

With a 1.2 million voter registration advantage for Democrats, Republicans don't win open seats by large margins, Lee said. Former Gov. Tom Ridge won his first election by four percentage points. Former Sen. Rick Santorum won his seat in the 1994 Republican landslide by 2.5 percentage points, Lee noted.

"The Senate race becomes your ideological clash — a real referendum on the president," Lee said. "Toomey voters want to stop the president, and Sestak voters want to support him."

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