Yeah, Pennsylvania’s Senate Race Will Be Competitive

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Jan 22, 2015 6:45 PM
Yeah, Pennsylvania’s Senate Race Will Be Competitive

The left-leaning Public Policy Polling firm has released their first survey of the 2016 Senate race in Pennsylvania. You guessed it; it’s going to be a competitive race. Incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Toomey already faces a tough race given that it will be a much different political climate than the tea party wave of 2010. Democrat Tom Wolf defeated Tom Corbett, who rode that same wave into the governor’s mansion in 2014 by a wide margin.

Right now, former Democratic Congressman–and Toomey’s 2010 opponent–Joe Sestak is considering running again. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews (I’m not kidding), former PA Gov. Ed Rendell, and PA Attorney General Kathleen Kane are also included in this poll as potential Toomey opponents. Toomey’s approval ratings are quite dismal, but 37 percent of Pennsylvania voters have no opinion of him:

Former two-term Governor Ed Rendell leads the pack of potential Democratic challengers, besting Toomey 44-41 in a hypothetical matchup. Rendell owns a substantial 17-point advantage with Independents, and leads with both men and women (+1 and +6, respectively). Should Rendell decide to enter the race, he would start with a decided name recognition advantage over Toomey, 85-63.

Toomey’s 2010 opponent Joe Sestak is the next closest challenger. Toomey eked out a two-point victory in 2010, and would again defeat Sestak 40-36 if an election were held today. Sestak has been hailed early on as the favorite for the Democratic nomination, but the former two-term Congressman only polls 40% name recognition with 19% support.

MSNBC pundit Chris Matthews, who has hinted at a run in the past, also trails Toomey by four points (42-38). Attorney General Kathleen Kane lags behind Toomey by six points, but polls one point ahead of the Senator in name recognition.

“Early indications are that Pennsylvania will have one of the most hard fought Senate races in the country next year,” said Dean Debnam, President of Public Policy Polling. “Pat Toomey hasn’t made a very strong impression on voters one way or another in his first four years in the Senate, and that leaves him pretty vulnerable if the Democrats are able to land a strong candidate.”

The poll has a sample size of 1,042 registered voters. It’s skewed at D+4, which isn’t terrible given the voter registration advantage Democrats enjoy in the Keystone State.

Kathleen Kane may be crossed off the list due to some recent legal issues; we’ll get to that in a bit.

In the hypothetical match-ups with Toomey, Matthews, Rendell, and Sestak had 20, 15, and 23 percent of PA voters in their respective races say they were not sure who they would cast their ballot for on Election Day. That’s good news for Toomey. He has room to maneuver.

And, on that note, let’s look at Kane. As Noah Rothman wrote over at Hot Air, she was considered Toomey’s biggest threat until yesterday (via the Morning Call, an Allentown, PA-based newspaper):

A grand jury has recommended Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane face charges of perjury, false swearing, official oppression, obstruction of law, according to court records.

The records, ordered unsealed late Tuesday by the state Supreme Court and obtained this morning, were related to legal filings in which Kane's defense team asked the state Supreme Court to quash the grand jury.

Kane's defense team argued a Montgomery County judge had no authority to appoint a special prosecutor to run a grand jury under state law and the state constitution's separation of powers clause prohibits the court from investigating a member of the executive branch, Kane.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday denied the motion to quash the grand jury.

Montgomery County Judge William R. Carpenter, who runs state grand jury proceedings in southeastern Pennsylvania, received permission from former Supreme court Justice Ron Castille to appoint a special prosecutor to examine how the Philadelphia Daily News found out about a 2009 grand jury investigation of Philadelphia political activist and former NAACP chapter president J. Whyatt Mondesire.

The grand jury is investigating the release of two memos: one written in 2009 that was part of the official grand jury file. And an internal memo leaked to the Daily News in 2014 that outlined details of the 2009 grand jury probe.

The release of the memos was believed to be retaliation against critics.

Kane won election in 2012 in large part by vowing to investigate why it took several years for authorities to arrest Jerry Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant coach now serving 30-60 years for sexually abusing 10 boys.

Kane also found herself embroiled in controversy last year when she shut down a probe that caught Philadelphia Democrats accepting bribes to oppose voter ID laws.

So far, I would say that Rendell and Sestak are Toomey’s biggest threats to his re-election chances. Oh, and there’s that whole bit about winning at least one of the collar counties around Philadelphia to ensure his re-election. After all, these are the areas where elections are decided in Pennsylvania, much to the dismay of the folks living in the “T.”