This post is by Jed Lewison from Daily Kos
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• PA-Sen: Here’s how you know the 2015-16 election cycle has officially begun: The good folks at Public Policy Polling have released their first public poll of the year. PPP starts with Pennsylvania, one of the Democrats’ top pickup targets as they aim to claw their way back to the majority. (Down 54-46, Democrats need to gain four seats to win back the chamber if they can also hold the presidency, five if they cannot.)
In 2010, ultra-conservative ex-Rep. Pat Toomey narrowly defeated Rep. Joe Sestak, 51-49, after Sestak had in turn dethroned Sen. Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary by a 54-46 spread. (Specter, of course, had served decades as a Republican before switching parties in 2009 so that he could ensure he’d get “re-e-lec-ted.” Didn’t quite work out for him.)
Though Sestak pissed off the Democratic establishment for daring to challenge Specter (even Barack Obama endorsed the incumbent), he proved he had serious chops as a campaigner by taking on the party and prevailing. And Toomey’s slim margin of victory, despite the GOP’s intense tailwinds that fall, showed that in any other year, Sestak would have likely prevailed.
Will 2016 be that year? Perhaps. PPP finds Toomey with a schvach 28-35 job approval rating and just a 40-36 edge on Sestak, who’s still largely unknown despite his prior run and has a 19-21 favorability score. Toomey doesn’t do much better against other options:
• 41-44 vs.
ex-Gov. Ed Rendell
• 42-38 vs. MSNBC host Chris Matthews
• 44-38 vs. state Attorney General Kathleen Kane
• 42-35 vs. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter
• 43-31 vs. Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro
None of these alternatives are likely to make the race: Sestak has been gearing up for a rematch for quite some time, and despite Democratic potentates’ efforts to find a less nettlesome candidate—we’ve long dubbed Sestak the Honey Badger of Pennsylvania politics—he’s the only person ready to run. However, the fact that Toomey is mired in the low 40s against all comers is not a positive sign for the Republican.
Add in presidential year turnout and the likelihood that Democrats will once again carry the Keystone State (the last Republican to garner Pennsylvania’s electoral votes was the first George Bush, back in 1988) and that means Toomey will face some serious headwinds. However, he’s a crafty campaigner and knows how to sell an ersatz moderate image, plus he’s also a gangbusters fundraiser.
So all we can say right now is that we should expect Pennsylvania to host a barnburner Senate race in 2016. Yep, we surmised that before PPP’s poll, but now we have some hard confirmation. This should be a fun one.