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Specter could be 'toast' in 2010 election, pollster says

| Saturday, Feb. 28, 2009

HARRISBURG -- A new statewide poll shows 53 percent of Pennsylvanians -- and 66 percent of Republicans -- want someone to replace Sen. Arlen Specter.

Asked whether they think Specter, a Philadelphia Republican, has done his job well enough to win re-election or whether they'd prefer a "new person" in that job, registered voters by a 53-38 percent margin said it's time to give someone else a chance, according to the poll by Susquehanna Polling and Research. Eight percent were undecided.

The numbers might reflect Specter's vote as one of three Republican senators who enabled passage of President Obama's $787 billion federal stimulus package, said James Lee, president of Harrisburg-based Susquehanna polling. But they reflect long-standing dissatisfaction among Republican conservatives with Specter's record, he said.

If the election were held today, "in a two-person race, Specter is toast" if his challenger is a credible candidate, Lee said. A race with more candidates likely would improve Specter's chances of winning.

"The senator never comments on polls," said Specter spokeswoman Kate Kelly. "There is only one that counts."

The poll surveyed 700 registered voters from Monday through Thursday. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

Among registered Republicans, 66 percent favored a new senator and 26 percent backed Specter. The margin of error on that question was plus or minus 5.9 percentage points.

Almost half of registered Democrats (49 percent) favored Specter over someone new (42 percent.) The margin of error was 5 percentage points, Lee said.

Lee included the question about Specter on a statewide poll conducted for corporate clients. It was not part of the corporate survey but one of several he said he added on his own.

However, Lee cautioned, the 2010 primary and general election are an eternity away in politics and Specter, 79, has time to try to "rehabilitate his image" within the Republican Party. Specter, who has served in the Senate 29 years, most likely would have to register some key votes on issues to regain support among Republicans, Lee said.

One upcoming vote that might garner attention is so-called "card check" legislation that would make it easier for employees to join unions, Lee said.

Specter won by the narrowest margin of his career in 2004 against conservative former U.S. Rep. Patrick Toomey, of Lehigh County. Toomey said last month he is considering running for governor in 2010.

Democrat Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC's "Hardball," considered running against Specter next year but declined.

It's not clear who will emerge as a substantial challenger in the GOP primary.

Pundits mention state House Minority Whip Mike Turzai of Bradford Woods, or state Senate Majority Whip Jane Orie of McCandless as possibilities. Peg Luksik, a staunch anti-abortion advocate from Cambria County, might run.

Among Democrats, potential candidates could include Auditor General Jack Wagner of Beechview, who has said he is leaning toward the governor's race next year; state Rep. Josh Shapiro of Montgomery County; U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz of Montgomery County; and U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy of Bucks County.

Despite Specter's weak numbers, he has a history as a political survivor.

Still, Lee said he hasn't seen such low numbers since former state Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer of Altoona and former Senate Majority Leader David "Chip" Brightbill of Lebanon were defeated in the 2006 Republican primary by voters outraged over the legislative pay raise they helped engineer in July 2005.

The governor's race might attract bigger names because it is an open seat. Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell by law cannot serve a third term. He leaves office in January 2011.

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