In February of 2008 Survey USA showed John McCain with a five point lead over Barack Obama in Pennsylvania, largely because McCain was winning a whooping 26% of the Democratic vote. Of course McCain's unusual level of crossover support was the product of the divisive primary between Obama and Hillary Clinton and in the end Obama won the state by ten points with McCain pulling just 10% of the Democratic vote in the final analysis.
When I look at our polling of the Arlen Specter/Pat Toomey race right now I see some shades of the 2008 election in Pennsylvania. Specter is actually doing a lot better with independents than most Democratic candidates are in our polling across the country right now. The reason he trailed in the poll we released last week was that Toomey won 18% of the Democratic vote. That's the highest level of crossover support we've found for any Republican challenger in the country so far this year and I somewhat doubt that's because of the hard right Toomey's reputation for moderation.
I think it's quite possible Toomey's large amount of Democratic support, like McCain's at this stage two years ago, is attributable to supporters of Joe Sestak in a somewhat rancorous primary refusing to say they will vote for Specter in the general election. Specter/Sestak certainly is not nasty on par with Clinton/Obama but it still seems to be producing enough hard feelings to drive down the general election poll numbers of both Democratic candidates. If the party rallies around Specter once he wins the nomination (which I think is a virtual certainty despite yesterday's Rasmussen numbers) he could be in a much better position six months from now just as Obama was last time. The Pennsylvania Senate race is one that may look worse for Democrats right now than it actually is.