Senate race too close to call, according to poll

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Republican Pat Toomey and Democrat Joe Sestak were neck and neck as they left the gate in the general election race to succeed U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter.

A new survey from Public Policy Polling found the Pennsylvania Senate race tied, with Mr. Toomey and Mr. Sestak at 41 percent each. Eighteen percent of the 609 voters surveyed were undecided.

Mr. Sestak, a Democratic congressman, led in one May survey, but Mr. Toomey, a former state representative, has been the leader in the consensus of polls in recent months.

The PPP poll suggests ample opportunity for movement in this match-up, as neither candidate has a fully formed public profile at this early stage. The favorable/unfavorable numbers for each candidate were virtually even -- 29 percent/28 percent for Mr. Sestak, and 30 percent/28 percent for Mr. Toomey. Big pluralities of respondents -- 44 percent for Mr. Sestak and 43 percent for the Republican -- said they were not prepared to express an overall opinion on either contender.

The results also suggested a slight gender gap in the contest, consistent with the frequent trend in American politics in which women disproportionately favor Democratic candidates and men are somewhat more likely to favor the GOP. While the overall sample tied, female voters favored Mr. Sestak, 42 percent to 38 percent, while men favored Mr. Toomey, 45 percent to 40 percent. Those margins, however, were at the outside edge of the survey's 4-percentage point margin for error.

In the last PPP Pennsylvania survey, while Mr. Sestak was in the midst of his primary fight against Mr. Specter for the Democratic nomination, Mr. Toomey led a trial heat by a margin of 42 percent to 36 percent.

The results were consistent with other recent surveys in showing erosion in the popularity of President Barack Obama in a state that he won by a landslide in 2008. Just 43 percent of those surveyed said they approved of Mr. Obama's job performance while 50 percent said they disapproved. Views on the Obama administration's health-care legislation were similar, with 40 percent expressing support and 51 percent opposition.

James O'Toole:


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