Pennsylvania Senate Race Looks Competitive

| Tom Jensen

PPP’s first poll of the 2016 Pennsylvania Senate race finds it picking up pretty much where the 2010 Senate race left off- with Pat Toomey holding a narrow edge over Joe Sestak. Toomey leads Sestak 40/36, similar to his 2 point margin of victory the first time the duo faced off.

Four years into his first term, Toomey’s approval numbers aren’t terribly impressive. 28% of voters approve of the job he’s doing to 35% who disapprove, comparable to the 31/34 spread he posted on PPP’s last poll in June. A plurality of voters- 37%- don’t have any opinion about Toomey at all. That level of anonymity with voters leaves his fate next year somewhat up to the political winds- if it’s another good year for Republicans like the last time he ran he may be alright, but if it’s a stronger Democratic year he’ll be in deep trouble.

Sestak has largely faded from Pennsylvanians’ minds since his 2010 bid as well. Only 40% of voters in the state have an opinion about him with those holding one pretty evenly divided in their feelings.

We tested 6 potential candidates against Toomey. The only one who leads, and a very unlikely candidate, is former Governor Ed Rendell. He would start out ahead of Toomey 44/41. Rendell’s favorability is 43/42, which while not exactly setting the world on fire, suggests there’s been a lot of improvement in his image since he left office. Our final approval poll while he was Governor found Rendell at a 34/53 spread.

Matching Sestak’s performance against Toomey is MSNBC host Chris Matthews, who briefly flirted with a Senate run in the 2010 cycle. Matthews trails Toomey 42/38 in a hypothetical contest. Despite years in the national media spotlight Matthews only has 43% name recognition in Pennsylvania, which may be a commentary on how narrow the audience for cable news really is.

There has been a noticeable drop in how Kathleen Kane polls in a hypothetical match up against Toomey in the wake of her recent negative media attention. Toomey leads her 44/38- on two previous surveys Kane had edged Toomey 42/40 last June and 46/42 in November of 2013. Kane’s favorability rating actually hasn’t changed that much over the last 7 months though- it was 27/27 in June and it’s 31/33 now.

Toomey also leads Michael Nutter (42/35) and Josh Shapiro (43/31) in hypothetical contests.

Toomey doesn’t have anything approaching Tom Corbett-like approval numbers to begin this election cycle. It’s not like he’s terribly unpopular. But he is relatively undefined and that will give him trouble in this Democratic leaning state if it doesn’t prove to be another strong GOP year.

Full results here

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