Tuesday, August 17, 2010
It is not yet Labor Day, so there is a bit of time left on the clock, but things are looking tough for Joe Sestak in the latest poll tracking the U.S. Senate race in Pennsylvania.
With Joe Sestak's victory in the Democratic primary and the poll bump that came with it now three months in the rear view mirror, Pat Toomey has taken a 45-36 lead in the Pennsylvania Senate race.On paper, Sestak would seem to be a good candidate to run for national office in Pennsylvania -- as a retired admiral in the U.S. Navy, he ought to have decent national security credentials, and he demonstrated that he could be an excellent fundraiser and defeat a long-time Republican incumbent in his race for the House seat in 2006. However, Sestak's command personality may make it harder for him to connect with voters who might be part of his natural base, as well as swing voters.
Pat Toomey is not the same exact type of candidate as Rick Santorum, who lost by historic margins as an incumbent in 2006 -- Toomey is generally perceived as being more conservative on fiscal issues, and less outspoken on issues of importance to social conservatives. Still, it will be very interesting to see how well Toomey performs in certain key districts around suburban Philadelphia, which have been trending Democratic for some time (in the PA 13th Congressional District, which includes some of Philadelphia County, Democrat Allyson Schwartz is expected to win re-election fairly easily). If Toomey does well in the suburbs, that will send shivers down the spine (and not tingles up the leg) of many Democrats concerned with the national picture, looking toward 2012, especially considering this bit of analysis:
The biggest key to the race is probably Obama's considerably fallen popularity. His approval rating stands at only 40% with 55% of voters disapproving of him, one of the biggest declines from 2008 performance we've seen for him anywhere in the country. Part of Obama's low numbers is a reflection of the Republican trending voter pool in the state this year, but there are also more people who voted for Obama but disapprove of him now in Pennsylvania than there are most places. Our national poll last week found only 7% of Obama voters are now unhappy with the job he's doing but in Pennsylvania the figure is 15%. Toomey has a 14 point lead with those disaffected Obama voters, showing the extent to which those voters moving away from Obama are moving away from the Democratic Party in general.Pennsylvania may not be a bellwether state in terms of national politics -- it was famously described by James Carville as "Philadelphia on one end, Pittsburgh on the other, with Alabama in the middle" -- but the election of a U.S. Senator seemingly to the right of the center of its body politic, and potentially by a convincing margin, would be a notable event.
I am expecting this race to be tight at the end, we have seen the polls swing around, but the post Labor Day numbers will matter more.
Toomey seems to be missing an opportunity to position himself as a cheerful, optimistic candidate with a positive agenda. Most of the coverage I have heard, and all of the offensive campaign donation requests I have received, instead stress Sestak's ties to Obama and his hiding his liberal record.
That may work if the Commonwealth truly has turned hard against the Democrats, but seems hack politics as usual to many undecideds. Sestak will likely underperform in the Jewish vote in Montgomery and Bucks and Delaware counties as his Israel record is highlighted.
But never underestimate the Philly machine, and expect attacks against Toomey to try to tar him as a social conservative nutjob among the suburbs of the southeast.