Progressive Democrat John Fetterman, Pennsylvania's lieutenant governor, is well ahead in his party’s U.S. Senate primary race, while far-right Republican Doug Mastriano, a state senator from the rural center of the state, is atop a deep field in the Republican primary for governor, according to a new poll from Franklin and Marshall College released Thursday.
Those two key races will shape both local and national politics for years to come. The new results provide a snapshot of voter sentiment ahead of the May primary and November general elections.
The Senate race to replace retiring Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey could be critical in a chamber where Democrats hold half the seats but have a tiebreaking vote thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris.
The gubernatorial race could determine whether divisive social issues do or don't become law in a state where Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has used his veto power often during his eight years in office to thwart a conservative Republican-controlled Legislature. Wolf cannot run for a third term. Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro is running unopposed in the May 17 primary.
Voters registered as Republicans or Democrats will have big decisions to make in the other three primary races: Republican contests for Senate and governor and the Democratic contest for Senate.
The poll results shows that centrist hopefuls in both parties have a lot of work to do, from U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, a Democrat from western Pennsylvania who trails Fetterman, to Republican establishment-backed candidates like Dave McCormick and Jake Corman.
The latest Franklin and Marshall poll surveyed 785 registered Pennsylvania voters between March 30 and April 10. Of the voters surveyed, 356 identified as Democrats, 317 as Republicans and 112 as independents.
“I think Fetterman’s performance among the progressive base, where a lot of the energy is, really helps him,” said, Berwood Yost, the director of the Center for Opinion Research and the Floyd Institute for Public Policy at Franklin and Marshall College.
Yost said Fetterman has likely been buoyed by his name recognition, not only as the current lieutenant governor but also as someone who ran statewide in the past – an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate in 2016.
Meanwhile, the more centrist Lamb has raised the issue of electability in a solidly purple state, but the tactic hasn’t yielded the desired results.
“I know Lamb’s strategy has been to raise the issue of electability, but I don’t know how that resonates with the party faithful who are gonna vote in this election,” Yost said.
Meanwhile, the Republican senate and gubernatorial primaries remain a “muddled mess,” Yost said.
The polling shows 16% of surveyed Republicans would vote for Mehmet Oz for Senate if the election were held today, giving him a razor-thin edge over David McCormick, who garnered 15% of support from respondents.
The thin lead for Oz masks a big issue for his overall electability. Another question in the poll reveals that Oz is viewed "strongly unfavorably" by 24% of Republicans and "strongly favorably" by just 5%.
One factor that could work in Oz’s favor, Yost said, is Trump’s endorsement of the medical doctor and television personality. The Franklin and Marshall poll was taken before Trump’s endorsement, and the former president “is still a popular figure in the Republican party,” Yost said.
Similarly, the poll was taken before Trump slammed Bill McSwain, the former U.S. attorney for eastern Pennsylvania who is running for governor on the Republican side.
Twelve percent of respondents said they would vote for McSwain if the election were held today, while 15% said they would vote for state Sen. Doug Mastriano.
Mastriano has led efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, while Trump this week asked voters to not elect McSwain, whom Trump called a “coward” who did “absolutely nothing” about disproven claims of widespread election fraud.
“Trump’s slap-down of McSwain certainly won’t help him among Trump voters,” in a state where the former president still has a lot of sway, Yost said.