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Sestak slashes gap with Specter |

Sestak slashes gap with Specter

HARRISBURG — A statewide poll released Tuesday shows U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak within striking distance of incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania’s Democratic primary for U.S. Senate.

Sestak of Delaware County is trailing Specter of Philadelphia by a 47-39 percent margin, according to the Quinnipiac University poll. In April, Specter held a 53-32 percent lead. A 21-point gap was reduced to an 8-point deficit in one month.

The candidates face voters at the polls on May 18.

“The Senate race is closing and could be headed for a close finish, while the race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination is moving in the opposite direction,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato of Brighton Heights leads three rivals with 36 percent of voters supporting him, according to the poll. Undecided voters — 37 percent — still exceeded Onorato’s total. Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Hoeffel garnered 9 percent, while Auditor General Jack Wagner of Beechview and Philadelphia Sen. Anthony Williams received 8 percent each.

The Democratic primary still is potentially volatile. The poll found 60 percent of those who chose a candidate could change their mind before voting.

Onorato, who has raised the most money, has dominated the airwaves with TV advertising. Williams this week launched the first negative TV ad against Onorato, and other candidates just began or are soon starting advertising campaigns.

The poll sampled 930 Pennsylvanians between April 18 and May 2. The margin of error was plus- or minus-3.2 percentage points.

The poll didn’t survey the Republican contest for governor, in which Attorney General Tom Corbett of Shaler has held a commanding lead over state Rep. Sam Rohrer of Berks County. It also didn’t question voters about the Republican U.S. Senate primary where former U.S. Rep. Pat Toomey of Allentown has raised far more campaign money than Peg Luksik of Johnstown.

Specter faces voters as a Democrat although he was elected to the seat in 1980 as a Republican. Specter switched parties last year amid increasingly negative prospects among Republican voters, according to polls at that time.

Voters’ “favorable” view of Sestak increased from 33 percent last month to 43 percent in the new survey.

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