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June 1, 2006
Santorum Collapsing In PA

The latest Rasmussen poll delivers bad news to Republicans hoping to hold or expand their majority in the US Senate. Incumbent and key conservative Rick Santorum has fallen far behind his challenger, Robert Casey Jr, with only five months left in the campaign:

The latest Rasmussen Reports election poll in Pennsylvania shows Republican Senator Rick Santorum solidifying his standing as most vulnerable congressional incumbent this election season.

Santorum now trails Democratic challenger Bob Casey 56% to 33% (see crosstabs). Our latest survey of the governor's race also brings good news for the Democrat in that contest.

Last month, Santorum trailed by thirteen percentage points. The incumbent began 2006 down by 20 points and closed to within single digits by March. That was before the Primary Election solidified Casey's position as the Democratic nominee.

Santorum continues to flounder with his base, attracting support from only 67% of GOP voters. Casey now attracts 87% of Democrats, a ten-point gain since our April 20 poll.

Rasmussen produces consistently reliable results on national polls, which makes this hard to dismiss. About the only bright spot left by these results are that Casey only drew 56% support, leaving 11% undecided. Santorum has poor internals as well, with five percent higher unfavorable responses than favorable (47%-42%). The head-to-head numbers have declined to their worst state so far this year, which indicates that Santorum has all the wrong kind of momentum.

What happened? We knew that Santorum would have a difficult re-election campaign, but I don't think that even Mark Dayton would get these kind of polling numbers in Minnesota, and everyone knew he could not possibly win another term (everyone, including Dayton himself). When an incumbent only draws 33% in a two-man race, something significant has happened. Right now, Santorum has been caught up in a residency dispute which may have eroded whatever crossover appeal he had. The bigger problem is among the GOP base. Only 67% of Pennsylvania Republicans support Santorum, as opposed to 87% of Democrats supporting Casey.

Lynn Swann has returned to earth in his race to unseat Governor Ed Rendell in PA. He has dropped eighteen points below Rendell in the latest Rasmussen poll, after leading within the margin of error before the primaries. Swann, a novice running for his first political office, still has to define himself more clearly with voters, and he may have hit some Santorum turbulence as well; only 59% of Republicans support him so far. Unlike with Santorum, whose incumbency identifies him clearly, this gap may portend better results for Swann, as he can still win the remainder over during his campaign as he defines himself and his agenda.

If the Republicans cannot win in Pennsylvania in these midterms, it makes it more difficult to carry the state for the national ticket in 2008. The GOP had better call an emergency strategy meeting for Santorum's campaign and get their party energized quickly if they want to hold that seat.

UPDATE: The fine folks at FreePA say that this is an extension of the Pennsylvania Earthquake that kicked out more than a dozen incumbents in the primary. Swann had supported one of the biggest targets, State Sen. Jubelirer. Santorum, meanwhile, has never mended conservative fences after supporting Arlen Specter against Pat Toomey, according to PennConservative, and the state GOP hasn't forgiven him for it.

This comes down to a bit of housecleaning by Pennsylvania conservatives, and I applaud that. I would caution them about getting too enthusiastic about it, however, unless they like the sound of Governor Rendell and Senator Casey for the next several years. For Lynn Swann especially, I think conservatives would do better through engagement with this political neophyte rather than an electoral shunning.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 1, 2006 5:55 AM

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Captain Ed, as with so many pundits that comment on Pennsylvania but don't live here, just doesn't get it. It's not his fault. Ed is a spectacular blogger whom I agree with about 90% of the time. However, when you don't have the facts, it's hard to get [Read More]

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