Is it possible for Republican Senate candidate Tom Smith to be trailing incumbent Democrat Bob Casey by just six points while Mitt Romney is down by 12 against Barack Obama in Pennsylvania?
That's what the latest Quinnipiac University survey of likely state voters released Wednesday shows. According to the results, Casey is up 49 percent to Smith's 43 percent, while Obama is at 54 percent to Romney's 42 percent.
Meanwhile, a Franklin & Marshall College poll released on the same day shows Casey with a 10-point lead among likely voters. The Morning Call/Muhlenberg College poll showed a 12-point lead for Casey the week before.
"We’ve seen clearly in most polls a narrowing of the gap in that race, how narrow it is seems to vary," Chris Borick, Muhlenberg pollster said. "I think the conclusion I would get by looking at the polls in whole is that the race has become more competitive, but how competitive is uncertain."
As late as Aug. 1, Quinnipiac showed Casey with an 18-point lead over Smith. The race has been almost entirely ignored nationally. A Casey win has been considered a foregone conclusion. The disinterest has added to the narrative that Pennsylvania wasn't in play this cycle.
Smith, the farmer turned coal executive whose only political experience before running for the U.S. Senate was a short stint as a township supervisor in the 1970s and as a heavy GOP donor, has run a relentless statewide TV ad campaign. It's been a combination of positive ads showing him as a blue collar, average guy, and negative spots against Casey's record. And he's done it largely with his own money.
He has massively outspent Casey on TV, including in Philadelphia and the collar counties where Casey has spent no money at all. Meanwhile, Romney hasn't run a single ad of his own in Pennsylvania.
Peter Brown, a pollster for Quinnipiac said one explanation for his poll showing Smith doing far better than Romney in the state might be because Obama's effort to brand Romney as an out of touch millionaire has had an effect on working class voters. Those same working class voters, the Reagan Democrat types, might like what they see in Smith.
G. Terry Madonna, F&M's pollster, said that in Pennsylvania history there have been times that conservative Democrats have voted for their party for the White House, but for their home representatives picked the Republican. But he added there has been less ticket splitting recently because "of the hardening of partisan lines."
There is also the pervasive anti-Congress sentiment. Obama's job approval and favorable numbers are much higher than those for Congress. In the F&M poll, Obama has 50 percent favorability compared to 37 percent for Casey. And nearly a quarter of Pennsylvania voters said they didn't know enough about Casey to form an opinion.
"There is a sense that (voters are) like who is he, what is he doing, and you don’t want someone filling in the gap there," Madonna said. Still, he doesn't think Casey should "overly worry."
"I’m looking for something to show why Casey could lose," Madonna said. "What is it?"
UPDATED: The Washington Post has moved the Pennsylvania Senate race from solidly Democrat to lean Democrat as a result of Wednesday's poll numbers:
"As a result of this narrowing, we are moving the Pennsylvania Senate race from “solid Democratic” to “lean Democratic” on our 2012 Senate map. The shift reflects movement toward the Republican side and suggests the race is firmly in play."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times