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Voters back constitutional convention to reform Pennsylvania government

| Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2010

HARRISBURG — Nearly three of four Pennsylvanians favor a constitutional convention to address state government reform issues, and most voters haven't made up their minds about Republican or Democratic candidates in the May 18 primaries for governor, a poll shows.

With 69 percent undecided, Attorney General Tom Corbett of Shaler holds a more than 4 to 1 lead over state Rep. Sam Rohrer of Berks County in the Republican gubernatorial primary, according to the poll released Tuesday by Franklin & Marshall College. The poll, conducted for the Tribune-Review, WTAE-TV and other news outlets, showed Corbett with 23 percent and Rohrer with 5 percent. Three percent chose "other."

"Voters of the state are disenchanted with state government and the state Legislature and believe fundamental change needs to take place," said poll director G. Terry Madonna. The governor's race "hasn't taken shape yet with voters. The reason is, there hasn't been any public outreach yet to voters, taking to the airwaves."

Among Democrats, Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato of Brighton Heights led with 10 percent, while Auditor General Jack Wagner of Beechview, Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty and Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Hoeffel each garnered 4 percent. But 75 percent of those polled were undecided, and 4 percent selected "other." Philadelphia businessman Tom Knox, who dropped out of the race last week, had 2 percent of the vote.

The poll surveyed 1,165 adults, of whom 993 were registered voters. The margin of error overall is plus or minus 2.9 percentage points. For registered voters, it's 3.1 percentage points. Among 443 registered Democrats, the sampling error is 4.7 percentage points. And it's 4.8 percentage points among 416 registered Republicans. The poll was conducted over a seven-day period through Sunday.

Of adults polled, 53 percent said Pennsylvania is on the wrong track.

Elizabeth Cipriani, 61, of Castle Shannon wants change after nearly eight years of Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell.

"I thought he was good when he started; then I realized how big his pockets were getting," said Cipriani, who responded to the poll and considers herself an independent voter who leans toward Democrats. "He gives raises to all his friends and compadres."

Poll participant Anna Marie Fisher, 86, of Uniontown, a retired beautician and registered Republican, said she doesn't recognize either Corbett's or Rohrer's names.

"I don't have enough information on both of them," Fisher said.

The economy and jobs resonate as a top issue with voters, followed by taxes and government spending.

In a separate question, 78 percent of those polled see a need to reform state government. Overhauling campaign finance laws, changing the structure and operation of the Legislature, and considering term limits attracted strong support, the poll showed, as did looking at how state and local governments are financed.

Asked whether a review of the laws governing how the state is structured and run needs to be addressed at a constitutional convention, 72 percent favored it to some degree. The last such convention was in 1967.

In Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate race, health care was the top issue.

Incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter, a Democrat since an April party switch, doesn't deserve re-election, those polled said by a 60 to 29 percent margin, with 11 percent undecided.

Yet Specter, of Philadelphia, holds a commanding 30 to 13 percent lead over U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak of Delaware County in the Democratic primary, according to the poll. Half of the state's Democrats were undecided, and 7 percent chose "other."

A theoretical November general election matchup between Specter and Republican Pat Toomey, a former congressman from Allentown, showed each with 30 percent of the vote, with 35 percent undecided and 5 percent favoring "other."

Among likely voters, Toomey leads Specter, 40 to 31 percent, and leads Sestak 41 to 39 percent. The margin of error is higher, 4.9 percentage points, among 395 likely voters.

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