SIX DAYS before Tuesday's primary, Sen. Arlen Specter and U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak are neck-and-neck for the Democratic Senate nomination, according to a new Daily News/Franklin & Marshall poll.
Meanwhile, interest in the race to replace Gov. Rendell remains low, according to poll director G. Terry Madonna, with more than half of registered voters still unsure which candidate they'll choose.
Sestak has a slight lead over Specter among likely voters, 38 percent to 36 percent, but a full quarter of voters remain undecided. The poll, conducted May 3-9, contrasts starkly with March's poll in which more than two-thirds of voters didn't even know Sestak's name, Madonna said.
The Specter-Sestak Senate race has become a "nail-biter," Madonna said, because Sestak's television ads have successfully argued three things: Specter's party switch was for solely political reasons; Specter has voted for Republican policies, and Specter has been in office long enough.
A full 65 percent of Democrats said it's "time for a change" from Specter, while only 26 percent said he deserves to be reelected. And only 32 percent think Specter is doing an "excellent" or "good" job as senator, compared with 33 percent rating his performance as "fair" and 29 percent as "poor."
Madonna said that Specter would likely overtake Sestak's lead if turnout is high Tuesday, as his name recognition is higher among the state's Democrats.Former U.S. Rep. Pat Toomey, the presumptive Republican nominee, still has a slight lead over both Democrats in a potential general election showdown, though less of a lead than he had earlier this year. In a hypothetical matchup, Toomey leads Specter 35 percent to 33 percent, and leads Sestak 29 percent to 28 percent.
In the Democratic race for governor, Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato leads the pack with 27 percent. None of the three other candidates - Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Hoeffel, Auditor General Jack Wagner and state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams - received more than 5 percent in the poll.
Fifty-seven percent of respondents were still undecided.
Madonna attributed that to voters' perceptions that the candidates "all sound alike."
The economy, taxes and the state's budget woes are the most important factors in voters' choices for governor, and all four Democrats are "more similar than not" on these issues, Madonna said.
On the Republican side, Attorney General Tom Corbett leads state Rep. Sam Rohrer, 29 percent to 10 percent, with 59 percent of voters undecided.
Pennsylvanians are still pessimistic about the state's progress and the economy. Fifty-five percent said the state is headed in the wrong direction, and only 35 percent say it is headed in the right direction. Forty-one percent have a favorable view of Rendell, and 47 percent have an unfavorable view.
A full 45 percent of Pennsylvanians either "strongly" or "somewhat" support the tea-party movement, and half of respondents said they would vote for a candidate who "supports the tea- party movement's goals."
On other issues, eight in 10 Pennsylvanians say they favor the legalization of medical marijuana, compared with only 17 percent who oppose the measure, which has been introduced in both houses of the Legislature.
Half of respondents supported the privatization of state-owned liquor stores, compared with 37 percent who opposed the measure.
And voters overwhelmingly supported the continued election of state judges - 69 percent would keep the current system, while only 24 percent would switch to an appointment-based system.