Smith, Romney Gain Ground In Latest Pa. Polls

Wilkes-Barre Citizen’s Voice

What once seemed inconceivable to Democrats now has shifted into the realm of the possible.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey could lose his re-election bid and a Democratic presidential candidate, President Barack Obama, could lose Pennsylvania for the first time since 1988.

For the second day in a row Tuesday, an independent poll showed sharply narrower leads for both men, perhaps putting Pennsylvania in serious play and creating a potential wild card in the race for the White House and control of the Senate as the campaigns head down the stretch.

Democrats downplayed the polling trends, but a new Quinnipiac University poll showed Casey ahead of Republican Senate candidate Tom Smith, 48 percent to 45 percent, and Obama leading Republican Mitt Romney only 50 percent to 46 percent.

In Quinnipiac’s late August poll, Casey was ahead 55 percent to 37 percent and Obama led 53 percent to 42 percent.

Quinnipiac surveyed 1,519 likely voters between Friday and Sunday. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

On Monday, an Allentown Morning Call/Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion poll showed Obama ahead 49 percent to 45 percent and Casey up only 41 percent to 39 percent. The poll of 438 likely voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 points.

For state Republican Party chairman Rob Gleason, the polls affirmed the tightening races that the party’s pollster found weeks earlier. He credited Romney’s Oct. 3 strong debate performance for his surge.

“We kind of felt this coming,” Gleason said. “In the southwest, we felt the support wasn’t what it should be because Obama, in the summer, did a nice job defining Romney (with television advertising). In the debate, Romney redefined himself.”

He noted the Romney campaign turned the Pennsylvania race around without spending any money on television commercials and with almost no appearances by either Romney or his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan.

“He’s going to win the state whether he comes or not,” Gleason predicted.

Gleason attributed the new political landscape to “Reagan Democrats” fed up with the administration’s “war on coal” and suburban Philadelphia moderates now more comfortable with Romney.

“Those people (in the suburbs) see Romney is not a conservative ideologue,” Gleason said. “They see him as more of a moderate guy who can solve a lot of the problems that he is facing.”

He attributed Smith’s polling rise largely to his huge TV spending.

Pollster and political analyst G. Terry Madonna, Ph.D., agreed Smith’s unchallenged commercials labeling Casey as “Sen. Zero” have made a difference.

For a month to six weeks, depending on the television market, Smith aired commercials, touting himself and attacking Casey, who did not respond.

“It’s partly Sen. Zero, it’s partly, I think, the slow response by the Casey campaign,” Madonna said. “I think they’re probably in full panic mode right now.”

Casey campaign manager Larry Smar did not sound panicky and pointed to three other recent polls that had Casey up by double-digit or near-double-digit margins – one at 11 points, one at 10 points and one at 9 points.

“There’s obviously something weird going on with some of the polling,” Smar said. “I think it’s (the race has) narrowed; I don’t think it’s narrowed as much as the GOP polls, and the Muhlenberg and (Quinnipiac) polls.”

Smar said the Casey campaign could not afford to compete on television all those weeks with Smith, who has poured almost $16.5 million of his own money into the campaign. But Casey’s financial shortfall could also be partly his own fault because he didn’t take Smith seriously, Madonna said. Smith, while he poured millions of dollars of his own money into the race, raised about $1.64 million in the third quarter from contributors compared to about $1.44 million for Casey, a surprising development.

By comparison, Casey raised $3.96 million in the third quarter of 2006, the year he beat Republican Sen. Rick Santorum, who outraised him by $10 million overall.

Plus, at the end of September, Smith had $7.1 million left, Casey $5.2 million.

Fundraising is harder in the current economic climate, but that’s true for both sides and challengers outraising incumbents is highly unusual.

Former Gov. Ed Rendell, now an MSNBC political analyst, said he still doesn’t believe the races are as tight as the independent polls show.

“Until the Obama or the Romney people start advertising, it’s a clear sign that their internals (internal campaign polls) show it at 6, 7 and 8 (points for Obama),” Rendell said. “If it’s really 4 (points), you go home tonight and Romney would be on the air.”

He said it only makes sense to try to win Pennsylvania if the presidential race here is tight because the state has two more electoral votes than Ohio, one of the other swing states where Romney is concentrating.

“And they’ve got more money so they would be forcing Obama to play here. Believe me, if they thought they had a chance to win Pennsylvania, they’d be on (television),” he said.

As for Casey’s campaign, Rendell did not hold back.

“Casey? He hasn’t run a campaign. He’s run one ad, a stupid Tea Party ad,” Rendell said. “The Tea Party ad isn’t bad, but that’s all they’ve run. They’ve run a non-campaign up until now and Smith has put a lot of money into the campaign. … You start spending money, that’ll change.”

“If Obama ends up winning the state by 6 or 7 (points),” it’s almost impossible for Smith to win. Without question,” Rendell said. “I think, in the end, Casey is going to run ahead of Obama. If Obama wins by 5, Casey wins by 7 or 8.”

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