Are Democrats regaining their mojo in Pennsylvania?
After months of dismal poll numbers, in part due to President Obama's declining popularity in the state, Democrat Joe Sestak has suddenly surged in the state's closely watched Senate race, eliminating GOP rival Pat Toomey's once-sizable lead.
Three separate polls this week have found Sestak and Toomey in a dead heat. A Morning Call daily tracking survey found the two tied, with 43 percent apiece. A Public Policy Polling survey found Sestak up by 1 point, leading Toomey 46 to 45 percent. A Quinnipiac University poll released just yesterday found Toomey leading by 2 points, 48 percent to Sestak's 46 percent. All results were well within the polls' margins of error.
That's a major switch from polling as recently as last week, in which Toomey held anywhere from a 5 to 10 point lead over Sestak in the race. According to Quinnipiac, Sestak is enjoying a sudden surge a little over a week before Election Day because Democrats "have begun to come home."
But there are also other issues working in Sestak's favor. For one, voters in the state, while still angry and eager for change, aren't as disgruntled as they were over the summer. In a state that has been hit hard by the recession, Obama's popularity took a major hit this year, which in turn dragged Sestak's numbers down.
Over the summer, the president's approval rating dipped to 38 percent — a roughly 30 percent drop since he won the White House in 2008. More recently, however, Obama's positives have slowly ticked up. According to Quinnipiac, 44 percent of likely voters in Pennsylvania now approve of the job Obama is doing — still not a great number, but far better than what it was.
That in turn has boosted Sestak, who has cut into Toomey's lead among several voting groups, including men. Last month, Toomey held a 21-point advantage among likely male voters. Now that lead is down to 14 points. Among women, Sestak leads Toomey, 53 percent to 41 percent.
But Sestak's late surge doesn't necessarily mean he'll win. For one thing, Pennsylvanians, like other voters across the country, are eager for change. According to Quinnipiac, 51 percent of likely voters want a senator who will stand up to Obama — a finding that clearly helps Toomey. Meanwhile, 45 percent say they want Republicans to control Congress next year, compared with 38 percent who want Democrats to remain in control. Among independents, a voting bloc that could decide the race, 50 percent want a GOP Congress.
A majority of voters say they are dissatisfied with the government and, in particular, its handling of the economy. Among voters who say they are "angry," Toomey leads by 77 percent. That's not a great sign for Sestak, even if his campaign is picking up new momentum.
(Photo of Sestak, right, and Toomey: Matt Rourke/AP)