Poll watch: Specter leads Sestak, Deeds gains 10%, Pearce and Wilson are still as weak in NM

Sestak leads Toomey, trails Specter by promising margin

Rasmussen’s poll of Pennsylvania’s Democratic primary might look like great news for Arlen Specter (he leads 51% to 32% against Rep. Joe Sestak) but these are certainly not the type of numbers that will scare Sestak away from the race. Yes, the survey shows that Specter is not rejected by voters of his new party. Quite the contrary, he is popular and stands a good chance of winning the nomination. But we already knew that: After all, Specter switched parties because he thought he had a better chance of winning a Democratic primary.

But Specter supporters like Ed Rendell typically do more than claim he is electable; they insist he is invulnerable. The poll makes it clear that he is not. For an undeclared candidate with low name recognition to gather 32% is a clear sign that there is substantial anti-Specter sentiment among Pennsylvania Democrats - enough for Sestak to build on.

Furthermore, Specter has spent the year being portrayed as a disloyal Republican (stimulus fight!) and as a Democratic savior (6o seats!) - a perception Sestak would be sure to change at least a little if he ran, whether by reminding Democrats of Specter’s conservative past or by airing damning footage of Bush’s ringing endorsements of Specter’s 2004 bid. Given this context, a 19% deficit is not a bad place for Sestak to start.

Rasmussen also tested the general election and found both Specter and Sestak leading Republican Pat Toomey, who hovers in the high 30s: The senator leads 50% to 39%, the representative leads 41% to 35%. Specter’s lead is nearly double that of Sestak, but much of this is once again due to a differential in name recognition: 18% of respondents are undecided in the match-up involving Sestak versus 7% in the match-up involving Specter. On the other hand, Toomey is competitive enough against both potential opponents that Democrats should not be dismissed as unelectable.

Deeds closes Virginia gap by 11%

The first two polls released after Virginia’s primary (the first by Rasmussen, the second by Anzalone Liszt) found Creigh Deeds vaulting to a lead over Bob McDonnell. Research 2000’s post-primary survey does not find quite that good news for the Democratic nominee, but it confirms that Deeds is enjoying quite a bounce:

  • The week before the primary, McDonnell led 46% to 34%; now, he is up 45% to 44%. Deeds could have more reserve among undecideds, as 24% of African-American don’t have a preference versus only 7% of white voters.
  • Unlike the two earlier surveys, the poll finds that McDonnell has a significant favorability edge, but the Democrat has here again closed the gap: McDonnell’s numbers are solid (55-36) but Deeds have improved from 41-39 to 47-35.

Over the course of two weeks, McDonnell’s number has not moved while Deeds has gained 10%: There could be no purer illustration than this poll of the fact that Deeds’s sudden exposure to Virginia’s general public (through a late advertising push and media coverage of his victory) has introduced him to voters and pushed those who are naturally open to voting for a Democrat towards him.

Very well then. Both candidates are now seen positively by voters who lean towards their party and they thus enjoy a baseline level of support. Now comes the harder part: moving from 44%-45% to 50% through a five-month push to solidify base support while courting undecided voters.

Democratic poll of New Mexico finds Denish in control

In New Mexico’s gubernatorial contest, we are waiting to see whether former Rep. Steve Pearce and former Rep. Heather Wilson jumps in the open race. After losing the 2008 Senate race by 22%, Pearce must not be that confident of his ability to win statewide; nor must Wilson be that excited at the prospect given her tough primary loss to Pearce last year.

The DGA is now trying to ensure they stay scared enough not to run by releasing a poll showing them both crushed by Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish in an identical 57% to 35% margin. While this is an internal poll, and thus must be taken with a grain of salt, the result is not particularly surprising. Pearce lost a statewide race by the same margin against Tom Udall just 8 months ago, on a day New Mexico took a decisive leftward turn at all levels. And I have never been convinced that Wilson would make a stronger general election contender (polls that tested both Wilson and Pearce in early 2008 didn’t find a consistent electability difference).

If Pearce and Wilson’s internal numbers are telling them something similar, they’ll be unlikely to attempt a second statewide race in as many cycles. That would leave Denish in control of the general election.

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