Casey campaign downplays shifting polls

After the release of several recent polls finding Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) closing the gap with his front-running Democratic challenger, state Treasurer Bob Casey Jr., Casey’s campaign manager issued a plea to political observers: Please don’t lose the forest for the trees.

The Pennsylvania Senate race is one of the most watched in this year’s congressional midterm elections, and political analysts view it as a bellwether of the national attitude about President Bush and the GOP majority in Congress.

Since last year, polls had consistently shown Casey with a double-digit lead over Santorum. While some still do, others have suggested that the incumbent was gaining ground as November inches closer. Santorum’s supporters remain confident that the experienced campaigner, who has a sizable war chest and the backing of national conservative groups, will prevail against Casey.

In a statement issued Friday evening, Casey’s campaign manager, Jay Reiff, sought to downplay the significance of the shifting poll numbers, even though they continue to show his candidate in the lead.

Santorum’s people emphasized that the campaign is only beginning. “We’re six months out from the general election,” said spokeswoman Virginia Davis. “We’re not paying attention [to polls] at this stage.”

“This race will tighten,” Reiff wrote.

According to Reiff, Casey’s margin varies from six percent to 17 percentage points in various polls. “For a two-term incumbent to be down even 6 points as late as six months out from Election Day is a sign of serious trouble,” Reiff wrote.

Quinnipiac University issued its latest poll last Wednesday, which concluded that Casey led 49 percent to 36 percent. The same day, the GOP polling firm Strategic Vision released a poll showing Casey with a 49-41 percent lead. Six days before, Franklin & Marshall College’s Keystone Poll put Casey ahead 47 to 41 percent. An April survey by Susquehanna Polling showed Casey leading 52 to 35 percent.

Pointing to the wide variance from survey to survey, Davis said, “Polls at this stage are often unreliable.”

Casey faces two primary challengers in today’s vote but is expected to beat them both handily.