Joe Sestak, Comeback Kid?

October 19, 2010 | Last updated: July 31, 2020

Can Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) make two improbable comebacks in one election season? Some internal polls released last week indicated that he was closing the gap considerably in his race to catch former Rep. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), but they were quickly dismissed by pundits who pointed to a Rasmussen poll that had him trailing by a solid ten points. The New York Times’ Nate Silver asked why anyone took internal polls seriously anyway and said that while primary polling could be very volatile, you don’t usually see candidates making big last-minute comebacks in a general election with fewer swing voters and better polling methods.

But sure enough, a new Public Policy Polling survey released today has the two candidates virtually tied.

The main reason, says PPP, is that Pennsylvania’s sizable Democratic base, which enjoys nearly a one million vote registration advantage over Republicans, appears to finally be waking up:

Democratic voters are getting more engaged as election day moves closer. Barack Obama won Pennsylvania by 10 points in 2008 but our August survey in the state found those planning to vote in November had actually supported John McCain by a point in 2008, suggesting a massive drop off in Democratic turnout. Now those saying they will vote next month supported Obama by 4 points in 2008. The enthusiasm gap is still there but it’s not as severe a problem for Democrats as it was 2 months ago.

Of course, many of those Obama voters are now not so sure about their choice: 51% of Pennsylvania voters disapprove of the job the president is doing, while only 43% approve. That makes Sestak’s climb that much tougher, but he’s been making real strides among independent voters since August as well. Whether this is because independent voters are taking to Sestak or simply becoming more familiar with some of Toomey’s more extreme views, he’s polling better than most Democrats among this group as well, according to PPP.

Naysayers will call the poll as an outlier, but it will likely generate much-needed enthusiasm among Democrats in the state. And having followed Sestak around on the campaign trail during his primary run, I can testify to the fact that the man is tireless and seems to possess the magical ability to finish strong in a long and grueling race.