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Toomey doubles size of lead over Specter

Voter support for Republican Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania's Senate race is growing, a poll released Thursday shows.

The former Lehigh Valley congressman, who is running against Johnstown anti-abortion activist Peg Luksik for the GOP nomination in the May 18 primary, holds a 49 percent to 40 percent lead over Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter in the Rasmussen Report polling conducted Sunday.

Toomey's lead over Specter doubled in size since the last poll a month ago. The sampling of 1,000 likely voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The poll shows Toomey with a 43 percent to 35 percent lead over Rep. Joe Sestak, a Delaware County Democrat running against Specter in the primary.

In the Democratic primary battle, Specter leads Sestak by 21 points. Specter switched to the Democratic Party in April.

"A 30-year Republican incumbent who will make any deal to keep his job on the inside is what people are rejecting," Sestak spokesman Jonathon Dworkin said. "You see how well Joe Sestak -- relatively unknown -- does against Toomey, compared to Specter."

Keystone College political scientist Jeff Brauer said Toomey's steady gain over Specter might be the result of voters' distrust of politically elite candidates and dislike for the health care proposal pending in Congress.

"The relatively unknown Toomey is seen as the populist outsider, and Specter could not be more of an example of a political elitist," Brauer said. "The other backlash is against the current health care approach, which is why Sestak is not catching Specter even though he is less of a political elitist."

Specter spokesman Chris Nicholas said the campaign had no comment on the poll results.

"Pennsylvanians don't want a senator who's a rubber stamp for the Reid-Pelosi big government agenda, which both Arlen Specter and Joe Sestak clearly are," said Toomey spokeswoman Nachama Soloveichik. "Pat has long advocated a more limited government, a growing economy and more personal freedom -- and that's where Pennsylvanians are today."

The poll showed 41 percent of Pennsylvania voters favor the legislation to overhaul the nation's health care system, but 57 percent oppose it -- consistent with attitudes reflected in national averages.

Health care played a pivotal role in Tuesday's Massachusetts special Senate election, where Republican state Sen. Scott Brown beat Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley for the late Ted Kennedy's seat.

"The current political climate is unkind to both Democrats and incumbents, and toxic when you fit both categories, as Specter does," said Isaac Wood, a political analyst at the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

If Democrats don't change course, Wood said, November's general election could produce overwhelming defeat for the party, including races they could lose in Pennsylvania where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by 4.3 million to 3.1 million.

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