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New Senate poll gives Fetterman edge among Dems, while more enthusiastic GOP still in play

Frederic J. Brown

A new poll suggests that Pennsylvania’s hotly contested Senate primary is a tale of two electorates — and not just in the partisan sense.

On the Democratic side, polling by New Jersey-based Monmouth University finds a solid advantage for Lt. Gov. John Fetterman going into the May 17 primary. Yet while Democratic voters stress that their pick should support Joe Biden’s presidency, they are divided over Biden’s actual job performance, the issues that matter most to them, and where they put themselves on the ideological spectrum.

On the Republican side, voters are more unified on a host of issues, except who they plan to vote for next month. Even Donald Trump’s endorsement of doctor and television celebrity Mehmet Oz appears to have done little to clarify the picture.

The Monmouth poll offers a more nuanced take on the field than simply asking what voters would do if the elections were held today. Instead, it asks which candidates best address their key issues, and whether they see themselves as “somewhat” or “very” likely to support or oppose each candidate in the field. On that score, former hedge-fund CEO David McCormick would seem to lead the GOP field. Sixty-one percent of Republicans say they are at least “somewhat” likely to vote for McCormick, whereas 51 percent say that of Oz or political commentator Kathy Barnette. Businessman Jeff Bartos trails just behind at 45 percent.

But there appears to be little hardcore support for any of these candidates: While nine in ten Republicans say there is at least one candidate they are somewhat likely to back, nearly half say they haven’t found one they are very likely to support. And nearly 70 percent of Republicans said that Trump’s endorsement of Oz did not change their feelings about him.

For Democrats, the picture is somewhat clearer. Forty-four percent of Democrats say they are “very likely” to back Fetterman, while 23 percent say the same about Congressman Conor Lamb, and 14 percent say it of Philadelphia state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta.

That isn’t to say that the Democratic electorate is entirely cohesive. Among Democrats, 46 percent would like to see the moderate wing have more influence in Washington — an opinion voiced by nearly two-thirds of Democrats aged 65 and older. A nearly equal share, 42 percent, would rather the progressive wing have more influence — a position taken by nearly two-thirds of Democrats aged under the age of 50. A similar age split divides perceptions of Biden’s job performance to date: Forty percent of Democrats say he is doing better than they hoped, but nearly 30 percent say he is doing worse, with the negative sentiment more common among young voters.

And while Democrats and Republicans put roughly equal importance on having their party control the Senate, the tendency toward ideological extremes shows a pronounced split. Democrats are twice as likely to identify themselves as moderate.

Perhaps surprisingly, however, more Democrats stressed voting and democracy as a key issue: More than one in ten Democrats emphasized it as a top concern, compared to fewer than 1 in 25 Republicans — even though Republican politicians from Trump on down have tried to raise doubts about the 2020 election.

In fact, Monmouth polling director Patrick Murray finds that candidates in the two races are facing not just different voter bases but very different dynamics. “In the Democrats, you have an ideologically divided party that is leaning toward a progressive candidate,” he said in a statement that accompanies the polling results. “While in the Republicans, you have a strong ideological bent but no agreement on which candidate best fits that bill.”

And the voters also differ in terms of enthusiasm — no surprise given widespread predictions that the GOP will make large gains in November. Equal shares of Democrats and Republicans say they are likely to vote this spring, but Republicans are twice as likely to say they are optimistic about the results this fall: 42 percent characterize their outlook that way, compared to just 19 percent of Democrats.

Nearly three decades after leaving home for college, Chris Potter now lives four miles from the house he grew up in -- a testament either to the charm of the South Hills or to a simple lack of ambition. In the intervening years, Potter held a variety of jobs, including asbestos abatement engineer and ice-cream truck driver. He has also worked for a number of local media outlets, only some of which then went out of business. After serving as the editor of Pittsburgh City Paper for a decade, he covered politics and government at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He has won some awards during the course of his quarter-century journalistic career, but then even a blind squirrel sometimes digs up an acorn.