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Poll shows Specter staring at 'near fatal' 31 percent re-election figure

| Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2009

HARRISBURG — Only 31 percent of Pennsylvania voters believe Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter should be re-elected, and 59 percent believe it's time to give someone else a chance, a state poll released today shows.

Specter's numbers are "staggering," said pollster Jim Lee, president of Susquehanna Polling and Research. An incumbent typically is vulnerable if fewer than 40 percent approve of his or her re-election, Lee said. The poll of 700 registered voters, conducted Oct. 7-12, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

"When I see a re-elect in the low 30s, that's ... near fatal," Lee said.

A Susquehanna Poll in February found 38 percent of Pennsylvanians believed Specter deserved to be re-elected.

Specter, 79, of Philadelphia holds a 44-16 percent lead over Rep. Joe Sestak, his challenger in the 2010 primary, with 22 percent of voters undecided. Eighteen percent of those polled said they would not vote for either candidate or would vote for someone else.

Albert Pollock, 75, a Cheswick Democrat, said he has harbored doubts about Specter since the five-term incumbent switched from Republican to Democrat on April 28.

"I think he's done all right for his party (during his years in the Senate). I just didn't like him changing horses in midstream. It looks like he just did this so he could get re-elected," said Pollock, who participated in the poll. He remains undecided and said he doesn't know much about Sestak, 57, of Delaware County.

Specter's campaign doesn't comment on outside polls, said campaign manager Christopher Nicholas.

"It's unsurprising that most Democrats believe that Arlen Specter doesn't deserve another term in Washington, because Specter has been voting against our Democratic values for the past 30 years," said Sestak spokesman Gary Ritterstein.

Among Republicans, 16 percent said Specter deserves re-election, while 75 percent want a new person. In the Democratic Party, about 44 percent of voters would re-elect Specter; 45 percent want someone else. The split by Democratic voters suggests Specter has little room to increase his support, offering Sestak his best chance, Lee said.

The 45 percent of Democrats who say it's time for someone else reflects a "sentiment for change" within the party, Lee said. Democratic leaders who have rallied around Specter should take note, he said.

Rank-and-file Democratic voters "haven't accepted Specter yet, and the Democratic hierarchy needs to be aware of that," Lee said.

Specter remains locked in a statistical dead heat with Republican Pat Toomey, drawing 42 percent support to Toomey's 41 percent, with 12 percent undecided. Four percent said they would choose neither candidate.

"Pennsylvanians are clearly rejecting Arlen Specter's laughable attempt to remake himself one more time, and they're rejecting the extremism coming from one-party rule in Washington," said Toomey spokeswoman Nachama Soloveichik.

Toomey, 47, lost the 2004 GOP primary to Specter by about 17,000 votes out of 1 million cast. He faces competition for the 2010 Republican nomination from anti-abortion activist Peg Luksik, 54, of Johnstown.

Pennsylvania voters by a 68-22 percent margin believe the state is headed in the wrong direction, the poll showed.

The poll found state Attorney General Tom Corbett, 60, a Shaler Republican, leading U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach, 54, R-Chester County, in the primary for governor by 36 percent to 13 percent. Fifty percent of Republican voters are undecided.

"Numbers will go up and down this far out from an election," said Corbett campaign manager Brian Nutt. "What you've seen in every single poll has been that Tom Corbett has an overwhelmingly wide margin."

Said Scott Migli, Gerlach campaign manager: "Despite the fact that Tom Corbett has spent millions running statewide twice, he has once again failed to break the 40 percent mark in a statewide poll. Republican voters obviously want to look at the ideas and records of other candidates before deciding who to support."

The poll did not include questions about the Democratic primary for governor, or a potential general election matchup between Sestak and Toomey.

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