Republican U.S. Senate candidate Tom Smith is chipping away at the lead held by incumbent Sen. Bob Casey in a race widely considered to have been safely in Democratic hands, according to results of two new polls.
Mr. Casey leads 49 percent to 43 percent among likely voters, according to the telephone poll conducted over the last week by Quinnipiac University, The New York Times and CBS News. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.
The poll "is further confirmation that Tom Smith's pro-jobs message is resonating with Pennsylvania voters as Smith has clearly captured the momentum," said his campaign manager, Jim Conroy. "Voters are rejecting Bob Casey's misleading negative attacks in favor of Tom's positive vision for the future and detailed plan to grow the economy and create jobs."
The Casey campaign says Mr. Smith is the one who has gone negative. "He's continuing to put his personal fortune into negative attack ads to cover up his Tea Party record," Casey campaign spokesman Larry Smar said.
Franklin & Marshall College conducted a poll of registered voters during the same time period as Quinnipiac's survey. Its results show Mr. Casey leading 48-38 among registered voters. Fourteen percent said they were undecided.
A month ago, a series of polls by Quinnipiac, The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Morning Call of Allentown had Mr. Casey leading by 18 to 19 percentage points among likely voters. Several polls conducted during the past two weeks suggest that the gap is closing.
Mr. Smar said Democrats remained confident that Mr. Casey would hold his lead and that the campaign did not plan to change its strategy based on recent poll results.
Franklin & Marshall pollster G. Terry Madonna said it was too soon to say whether Mr. Smith is within striking distance. It isn't surprising that Mr. Casey's lead is shrinking, Mr. Madonna said, because some respondents in the earliest polls had never heard of Mr. Smith.
"The question is whether there is room enough for [Mr. Smith] to grow enough, and that's what we don't know. It seems like an uphill climb, and that's why everybody has the race listed as likely Democratic or safely Democratic."
Mr. Casey of Scranton is seeking his second Senate term. He previously served as Pennsylvania's treasurer and auditor general. Mr. Smith is a grain farmer and a former coal company owner. He lives in Shelocta, a rural community 40 miles north of Pittsburgh.
Washington Bureau chief Tracie Mauriello: firstname.lastname@example.org or 703-996-9292.