With Joe Sestak gaining rapidly on Arlen Specter in most recent Pennsylvania primary polling you're left wondering- how would having Sestak as the nominee instead of Specter affect Democratic chances of keeping the seat?
On the surface it would be a slight negative. In the most recent pollster.com composites Sestak trails Pat Toomey by 9 points while Specter is down by just 7. But beneath the surface there are indications Sestak would be more competitive in the general election.
Democrats are going to have to keep their losses with independents to a minimum this fall, but Specter may not be the candidate to do it. 52% of them disapproved of his job performance when we polled the state last month to just 32% who gave him good marks. Sestak was mostly undefined but among the independents who did have an opinion of him his favorability was a positive 18/14 spread. It's hard to say what Sestak's standing will be once independents get to know him better but it's unlikely he'll ever get to the point where a majority of them view him negatively as they do Specter, and that could bode better for his ability to win votes from them.
Another big difference presents itself in their numbers among the Democratic faithful. 30% of them disapprove of Specter job's performance, an unusually high level of unhappiness for the party base to have with an incumbent. That could translate to votes for Toomey or it could translate to voters staying home, but either of those outcomes is not good for Democrats in a year where they don't have much margin for error. Like with independents Sestak began the campaign relatively undefined with his own party but his poll numbers suggest that they're liking what they see.
We really don't know what Pennsylvania voters think of Sestak yet, but we do know that they're not real high on Specter. If Sestak wears well as a candidate it's a situation where Democrats may be better off in the fall with a fresher face. We'll see how it shakes out...