A new Rasmussen poll shows Sen. Arlen Specter in a virtually dead heat against firebrand MSNBC host Chris Matthews, who has made no secret of his desire to run against the Pennsylvania Republican in 2010.
The poll of 500 likely Pennsylvania voters gives Specter a 46 percent to 43 percent lead over Matthews, which is within the poll’s 4 percent margin of error. That means statistically, the two are deadlocked even before Matthews has announced his intention to run.
When recently asked on CNN’s Late Edition about the prospect of a Matthews challenge, Specter replied: "I never look over my shoulder, never look behind. Somebody may be gaining on me. I run with blinders. I’ll be prepared, whoever my opponents are."
The Rasmussen poll suggests that Matthews already enjoys a strong following among Keystone State voters, despite the barrage of criticism he received during the presidential campaign for his perceived bias toward President-elect Barack Obama. In September, MSNBC pulled Matthews off election-desk anchor duties, although he did appear as a commentator.
Specter chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee from 2005 to 2007, and has been a frequent source of frustration for GOP conservatives. He is now stranger to tough political donnybrooks, having barely survived a tight GOP primary election in 2004 before narrowly winning the general election. He would be 80 years old in 2010 if re-elected.
Matthews, a former top aide to late House Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neil before launching his media career, has spoken repeatedly of his lifelong dream of becoming a U.S. senator. According to a Politico.com report, he has been shopping for a home in Pennsylvania and has privately discussed resigning as host of Hardball With Chris Matthews to free himself up to challenge Specter.
Specter and Matthews have high negatives, according to Rasmussen. Thirty-seven percent of likely voters rate both Specter and Matthews "somewhat unfavorable" or "very unfavorable."
Specter’s favorable ratings are stronger. According to Rasmussen, 60 percent of voters rate Specter favorably, compared to 39 percent for Matthews.
Specter also polls surprisingly well among Democrats: 48 percent of whom rate him favorably.
Voters probably are not focusing yet on the state’s 2010 Senate contest. Eleven percent of respondents were undecided, or preferred another candidate.
One factor contributing to Matthews' surprisingly strong showing: He appears to be basking in the halo of Obama's popularity.
"Matthews clearly benefits at this time from the positive attitudes Pennsylvania voters have for Democratic President-elect Barack Obama," Rasmussen says.
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