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Onorato nearly 20 points ahead of pack for gubernatorial bid

| Wednesday, April 14, 2010

HARRISBURG -- Powered by statewide TV advertising, Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato surged ahead of three candidates to grab a formidable lead in the Democratic primary contest for governor, according to a poll released late Tuesday.

The survey of 400 Pennsylvania Democrats by Susquehanna Polling and Research from last Wednesday through yesterday showed Onorato of Brighton Heights with 32 percent; Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Hoeffel, the party's unsuccessful nominee for U.S. Senate in 2004, at 13 percent; state Auditor General Jack Wagner of Beechview with 6 percent; and Sen. Anthony Williams of Philadelphia at 4 percent.

But 45 percent of voters remained undecided. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

"Onorato is definitely pulling away from the pack," said James Lee, Susquehanna's president. "It's tough to see a scenario where someone can deny him the nomination, based on where this poll is now."

Onorato's paid TV advertising has aired since March 30, said his campaign spokesman, Brian Herman. He leads all candidates for governor in campaign fundraising.

The poll asked Democratic and Republican voters about their sources of information on candidates and found the top source, at 34 percent, was television advertising.

Given that Wagner has run statewide three times before, and with so many undecided voters as the May 18 primary nears, there is "room for him to move up," Lee said. But he said Wagner's showing surprised him.

Williams also has placed TV ads.

In the Republican contest for governor, Attorney General Tom Corbett of Shaler holds a commanding lead with 50 percent, compared with 7 percent for state Rep. Sam Rohrer of Berks County, the poll showed. The margin of error among 254 Republican voters was plus or minus 6.1 percentage points.

Rohrer "has had a difficult time getting his message out that he is the real conservative," Lee said.

Corbett made it difficult for Rohrer to gain traction among primary voters by signing a pledge against tax increases and filing a lawsuit with 12 other attorneys general in opposition to people being forced to buy health insurance, Lee said.

It would be different if Corbett were a liberal Republican, "but that's not the kind of candidate Tom Corbett is," Lee said.

Any votes Rohrer might get from supporters of the so-called tea party movement are "flying under the radar," Lee said.

In the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, Congressman Joe Sestak of Delaware County gained ground on incumbent Arlen Specter of Philadelphia. Specter leads Sestak 42 percent to 28 percent, with 26 percent of voters undecided. Three percent of voters chose "none" or "other," and 1 percent refused to say for whom they would vote in that race.

Sestak's total was 12 percentage points higher than in an October Susquehanna poll. Specter slipped 2 points since the last poll.

"We always believe when you get a longtime incumbent under 50 percent, they are vulnerable," Lee said.

Sestak could gain ground but is unlikely to do so without significant campaign resources, Lee said.

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