- The Washington Times - Monday, August 30, 2010

DuBOIS, Pa. | They’re both Catholic, middle-aged, Harvard-educated white men - but the similarities end there between the two candidates running for Arlen Specter’s U.S. Senate seat in Pennsylvania.

Former Rep. Patrick J. Toomey is a conservative Republican and one-time Wall Street derivatives trader who chased Mr. Specter from the GOP. On the stump, he’s politically polished and has a knack for sticking to the script.

He’s taking on Rep. Joe Sestak, a liberal Democrat and retired three-star Navy admiral who ended Mr. Specter’s political career by defeating him in a hard-fought primary. On the stump, Mr. Sestak can throw out so many stats, personal stories and ideas that it he can leave a person’s head spinning.

Despite their glaring differences, the path to victory for both men hinges in large part on the same voters: undecided independents.

“Democrats have an enormous registrant advantage that benefits them at the polls, but there is a great fear in terms of turnout among the state’s Democratic rank and file. So for Democrats to win, there is a need to tap into the independent or independent-minded voters,” said Christopher Borick, an associate professor of political science at Muhlenberg College in Allentown.

“The same thing goes for Republicans. The Republican-energized base on its own might not be enough to pull off statewide races. So what needs to happen is they have to have that crossover appeal to those middle-of-the-road voters,” he said.

Mr. Toomey and Mr. Sestak have consolidated their political bases and are fighting over the unaffiliated voters and moderate-minded members of their parties.

But one recent poll that found that 25 percent of likely Pennsylvania voters are undecided.

Mr. Toomey appears to have the upper hand in riding the wave of anti-incumbent sentiment that has played out across the country. He holds a 6.5-percentage-point lead in RealClearPolitics’ average of polls.

Mr. Sestak, though, tried to steal some of the independent magic last week as he touted his support from party crossers.

“I’m a Republican, and I support Joe Sestak for Senate,” said Charles A. “Tony” McGeorge, a former president of Valley Forge Military Academy & College.

Mr. McGeorge’s remarks set the stage for maverick former Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican and Vietnam War veteran, who had traveled there to break with his party once again in endorsing the Democrat.

Standing before Philadelphia’s Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier, Mr. Hagel called Mr. Sestak “exactly the kind of leader America needs at this time in our history.”

Mr. Sestak, 58, returned the compliment, saying he admired Mr. Hagel more than anyone else with whom he served in Congress, and then suggested he himself was cast from the same independent mold. “I think there’s this ability to be independent, to work with dissent, the difference of ideas, and reach across the aisle, to see if you cannot not work together,” Mr. Sestak said.

With the unemployment rate hovering around 10 percent nationally and at 9.3 percent in Pennsylvania, Mr. Sestak and some of his fellow Democrats are trying to distance themselves from the White House and their party.

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