The new Keystone poll just out today has got to be sending some very nervous tremors through the halls of the DSCC, the DNC, and the Bob Casey for Senate campaign. Even while confirming that Rick Santorum remains very vulnerable in the upcoming Pennsylvania Senate race, the poll suggests that the DSCC-annointed Democratic candidate, Bob Casey jr., will have a very difficult time defeating Santorum this fall if he wins the primary on May 16th.
In a nutshell: Casey's once-dominant double-digit lead over Santorum is in a free-fall; as undecideds learn more about Casey they are overwhelmingly opting for Santorum in a hypothetical (until the voters decide in the May 16th primary) Casey v Santorum Senate race, this despite the fact that a growing majority of Pennsylvanians want someone other than Santorum to represent them in the Senate.
Bob Casey, the son of a former Pennsylvania Governor with the same name, has been running a pretty much invisible campaign, ducking debates in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh where extensive media coverage would be insured, and referring most press inquiries to his campaign manager, rather than offering up his own sound bites. Casey is a very conservative Democrat whose positions on the issues are often indistinguishable from Rick Santorum's, and his stealth campaign seems geared toward shielding the voters from learning too much about where he stands on the issues.
That strategy does not appear to be working. The keystone Poll suggests, as others have before it, though not in such stark terms, that as voters learn more about Casey they opt for Santorum in a still-theoretical two-man Casey v Santorum Senate race.
The current situation is eerily reminiscent of the 2002 Pennsylvania Gubernatorial race when Bob Casey squandered a double-digit lead in the early polls, eventually suffering a double-digit defeat in the primary to Ed Rendell, who went on to win the governorship. Then as now, Casey ran a largely stealth campaign, and it backfired, as Dr. Terry Madonna, who today presides over the Keystone Poll at F&M college, ably chronicled at the time. Is this deja vu all over again?
According to the Keystone trends voters appear to feel, and by an ever-expanding margin, that it is time for a change in the U.S. Senate:
- March 2005: 41% feel it is time for a change
- June 2005: 42% feel it is time for a change
- Sept. 2005: 47% feel it is time for a change
- Feb. 2006: 50% feel it is time for a change
- May 2006: 52% feel it is time for a change
That trend represents quite an opportunity for Bob Casey Jr., the candidate the design of this poll questionairre clearly assumes will be the Democratic nominee (Democratic challengers Chuck Pennacchio and Alan Sandals are mentioned in only one question, despite the fact that this is a very long questionairre). Is Casey up to the task?
Since the last Keystone poll in Feb '06 here is how the "Favorable/Unfavorable " numbers have changed:
- Santorum 's favorable rating increased from 38% to 39%; His Unfavorable rating decreased from 34% to 33% (+2 net change). 28% are undecided or don 't know.
- Casey 's favorable rating is at 30%, unchanged. His unfavorable rating increased from 8% to 13% (-5 net change). 57% are undecided or don 't know. The percentage of respondents who said they "Don 't know enough about " Casey to have an opinion about him dropped from 45% in February to 38% in Late April/early May, yet apparently none of those voters developed a favorable opinion of Casey. They all migrated into the "unfavorable " category (+ 5) or into the "undecided " category (+4).
After asking lots of questions about Ed Rendell, Lynn Swann, Rick Santorum, and Bob Casey Jr. the poll finally gets around to asking how voters will vote in the primary, and here for the first and last time the names of Chuck Pennacchio and Alan Sandals come up. Not surprisingly, 63% say they will vote for Casey versus a combined 7% for Pennacchio and Sandals (still Pennacchio and Sandals vote total is + 74% versus February). By the time Pennacchio and Sandals are mentioned, the notion that this is a pre-ordained Santorum v Casey election has been firmly implanted in the consciousness of the respondents. The validity of this question and its response is further illustrated by the fact that 62% of respondents say they are "certain " to vote in the primary. Only 8% say they probably will not vote in the primary. Contrast that response with the fact that historically less than 10% of registered voters actually do vote in primaries. Clearly the Keystone poll's assessment of the viability of Pennacchio or Sandals cannot be taken seriously.
Finally, the $64,000 question. Who would you vote for if the Senate election were held today?:
- Casey: 47% (-3)
- Santorum: 41% (+ 2)
- Net change: 5-point shift toward Santorum and away from Casey. Casey 's edge over Santorum has declined from +16 in November '05 to plus 11 in February '06 to a slim 6-point lead in Late April/early May '06. That trend represents a 63% slide.
Have Casey 's numbers bottomed out? The trend lines suggest otherwise.