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Pennsylvania voters ready to deny Specter a sixth term, polls show

In surveys by Quinnipiac University and by Franklin & Marshall College, the senator registers a third or less of Republican support -- a dangerously low level for a well-known incumbent.

March 26, 2009|Josh Drobnyk

WASHINGTON — Illustrating Sen. Arlen Specter's uncertain political future, two new surveys suggest that Pennsylvania voters are ready to reject him, with a majority of Republicans saying he doesn't deserve reelection.

The polls by Quinnipiac University in Connecticut and by Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania show conflicting head-to-head results in hypothetical matchups between Specter and possible GOP challenger Pat Toomey -- with each holding a double-digit lead over the other.

But in both polls, Specter registers a third or less of Republican support, a dangerously low level for a well-known incumbent, analysts said.

Specter, 79, has had a high-profile role in the new Congress. His willingness to cross the aisle for President Obama's economic stimulus bill was crucial to its passage, but that stance has threatened to derail his bid for a sixth term next year.

Voters were surveyed before Specter's announcement Tuesday that he would oppose a major labor rights bill. The polls' results add pressure on the senator as he considers whether to help Senate Democrats when they need at least 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. He could also shore up support within the conservative base ahead of what could be a tough primary race.

"This is a crucial juncture for Obama because of the things he wants to do with healthcare, energy and education," Franklin & Marshall College political scientist G. Terry Madonna said, referring to the president's budget proposal.

"On substance, I think Specter would support a lot of that. But he has to be careful not to be viewed as a carrier for Obama's agenda. It raises the hackles of the ideological conservatives, the social conservatives and the party activists," Madonna said.

Adding to the weight of Specter's upcoming decisions in the Senate is a Republican electorate in Pennsylvania that has rarely been so dissatisfied with the senator.

Both polls show slightly more than half of Republicans saying that Specter doesn't deserve another term. Only three in 10 Republicans polled by Quinnipiac said they had a favorable impression of him. Nearly half said they viewed him unfavorably, with a quarter saying they hadn't heard enough.

Toomey, a former congressman who is president of the anti-tax group the Club for Growth, has not declared his candidacy but is seriously considering a run.

The Franklin & Marshall poll found Specter leading Toomey, 33% to 18%, among Republicans. More than four in 10 voters said they were undecided. The Quinnipiac poll showed Toomey ahead, 41% to Specter's 27% among Republicans, with more than a quarter of voters unsure. Still, Toomey is not well-known among GOP voters; nearly three-quarters say they don't know enough about him to have an opinion.

Specter's announcement this week that he opposes legislation that would make it easier for workers to unionize takes one controversial issue off his plate.

His decision, which is expected to kill the measure, was a reversal from 2007 and came after weeks of intense lobbying by labor and business groups -- and threats from some of his most faithful financial backers that they would abandon him if he backed the bill.

But ahead of Specter lies a slew of other issues Obama is pushing, including a $3.55-trillion budget resolution.

Specter said Wednesday that he had "grave doubts" about the spending level in the federal budget, but that he was undecided on how he'd vote.

Asked what role he sees himself playing as Obama presses Congress to pass his agenda, Specter responded that he doesn't have one. "I am going to vote on the issues as they come up one by one," he said.

He said he pays little attention to polls.

"I handle polls like I handle opponents -- I look straight ahead," the senator said. "I do not react to my job in accordance with which way the wind is blowing."

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jdrobnyk@mcall.com

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