Once again, it turns out that for the most part, voters have no idea who the candidates for statewide office are. Yes, state Attorney General Tom Corbett will be the Republican nominee ... and yes he leads the Democratic field ... which, yes, is currently led by our very own Dan Onorato.
But if I were a political consultant, I'd be calling up "undecided" and seeing if there's a spot on that campaign team.
Briefly: three out of five voters say they don't know who they want to vote for in the Democratic primary. Among those who have some vague clue, Dan Onorato leads with a less-than-overwhelming 16 points. But right now, the match-up in November looks the same no matter who the Democratic nominee is. Whether Tom Corbett is facing Onorato, state Auditor General Jack Wagner, or Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Hoeffel, Corbett wins by almost exactly the same margin: By about 42 percent to 30 percent, give or take a point.
"The Democratic candidates for Governor are almost invisible men as far as the voters are concerned," Pollster Peter Brown says. "[A]t this point they are so closely bunched together and such mystery men ... that any result is possible."
Somewhat amusingly, the Onorato camp looked at Brown's numbers and came to a different conclusion. In an e-mail to supporters, his campaign boasts that "a Quinnipiac poll confirmed [Onorato's momentum], finding Dan to be the undisputed front-runner for Governor."
On the Senate side, Quinnipiac has found that incumbent Democrat Arlen Specter is currently up on his Republican challenger, Pat Toomey, 49-42. He leads Democratic challenger Joe Sestak 53-29. That's good for Specter -- earlier polls showed him tied or trailing with Toomey. But this race too is a question mark, because no one knows these guys either. Nearly three-quarters of voters don't know enough about Sestak to have an opinion; nearly two-thirds say the same about Toomey.
And Specter can't get complacent: By a 52 - 38 percent margin, voters say Specter doesn't deserve another Senate term. Also, the poll suggests that Specter's challengers benefit the more people learn about them: "Among Democrats who have some opinion of both Specter and Sestak, Sestak leads 54 - 37 percent."
If true, that would lend support to my long-stated belief that Sestak has the bigger upside, because he appeals to the liberal base, and because people already know all they're going to know about Specter. But the hour grows late. The percentage of voters who say they haven't heard enough about Sestak is statistically the same today -- 74 percent -- as it was in a poll conducted back in May of 2009 -- 76 percent. What ought to worry Sestak isn't the current crop of numbers; it's the lack of movement.
And while I'll admit that this is anecodtal evidence at best, some inertia may have set in even at places like DailyKos, the liberal Web site whose founder was an early adopter where Sestak is concerned. For example, Bill Halter, who just launched a Sestak-style challenge of Arkansas Democrat Blanche Lincoln, has garnered 73 articles on the site in just the past few days. Sestak has earned 113 in the past year.
There is at least one amusing note in the Quinnipiac poll, though. Pollsters asked Pennsylvanians whether they trust federal government to do the right thing: only 11 percent of voters said they trusted it to do so either most or almost all the time. Thirty-five percent said it "hardly ever" can be trusted. Amusingly enough, even the politicians in Harrisburg do better: 18 percent voters say Harrisburg can be relied on to do the right thing most or almost all the time, while only 21 percent are jaded enough to say state government can "hardly ever" be trusted.
We're all used to polls that show Congress is less popular than lawyers, people who kick puppies, or even journalists. But to be compared to state politicians and be found wanting? That's a new low.