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Sestak, Corzine Closing

New polls out show Rep. Joe Sestak continuing to close the gap against turncoat Democrat Arlen Specter in the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic primary matchup, and incumbent New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine also narrowing his deficit in the general election contest with Republican nominee Chris Christie.

Let’s start with Sestak, who this week sat for a televised interview at Netroots Nation. The Research 2000 poll conducted for DailyKos shows the Seventh District congressman now only 15 points behind incumbent party-switcher Specter, who has been taking his share of heat lately at town hall events. Looking also at the numbers for Republican Pat Toomey, Senate Guru notes the potential for even further upside for Sestak:

Perhaps most telling in the crosstabs are the three politicians’ No Opinion numbers, the percentage of respondents still unsure or unaware of the particular candidate. Specter’s at a scant 8%–after decades in office, he’s a known quantity. Toomey’s at 29%–largely known, but still a little room to grow. Congressman Sestak, however, is at 44% unknown. He’s polling well and still has plenty of room to grow those numbers. Looking good for Congressman Sestak.

It would be very good for Pennsylvania Democrats and Senate/national Democrats if Sestak won the primary and held the seat in the general. This is not quite the bloody battle to oust Joe Lieberman, but it’s important for the Democratic Party at the grassroots level to demonstrate that a party-switch endorsed by the Senate Democratic Caucus and even the president is not necessarily what they want or what’s best for representation in the state. Specter is past his sell-by date, and having Sestak win now would prevent the potential long-term loss of this season once Specter does at some point retire–assuming he can hold the seat next year.

And, given that Sestak is almost as competitive right now in a potential general election pairing against Toomey–he’s down 42% to 41%, to Specter’s 45% to 40% edge, despite being still relatively unknown statewide–suggests that nominating him presents no added risk in the general for the Democrats, and, potentially, lots of upside. Sestak has a great bio, too, and that could matter in a year that might be tough nationally for Democrats at every level. A final note: If you look at the “no opinion” results, it is clear that black Pennsylvania Democrats could be crucial in this primary, if for no other reason that they have yet to make up their minds between the senator they know (and have mostly been voting against for years) and the congressman they don’t know who is challenging him.

As for Corzine in neighboring New Jersey, he seems to be getting some traction with his negative campaign against Christie. Trailing just five points, according to a new Greenberg Quinlan Rosner poll, Corzine is cutting into Christie’s lead by, well, cutting into him: Christie’s negative are growing. (We heard from executive directors of both the Republican and Democratic governors associations about this race here previously on 538, and it’s clear this will get downright nasty right down to the final week–just as New Jersey voters have come to expect from their political campaigns.)

The GQR poll summary report reads, in part:

As voters learn more about Chris Christie, his negative ratings appear to be rising. His negative ratings are now as high as his positives—32 percent view him favorably, 31 percent unfavorably.

Meanwhile, the Republican brand continues to carry negative connotations in New Jersey. The Democratic Party generates a more positive reaction than their Republican counterparts, receiving a favorable-unfavorable rating of 40 to 39 percent compared to a favorable-unfavorable rating of 29 to 43 percent for the Republican Party.

Elections are about candidates and campaigns, but what’s most interesting about the NJ contest–moreso than the Virginia governor’s race–is that the demographic situation clearly advantages Corzine, all else equal. If he loses this race against Christie, it will rattle national Democratic cages more, and possibly a lot more, than if Creigh Deeds comes up short against Bob McDonnell. Also, Corzine is an incumbent, so his fate is a better referendum on voter dis/satisfaction with Democratic leadership than the open seat contest in Virginia. Not to mention, following consecutive gubernatorial wins by Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, plus the flipping of both U.S. Senate seats there, a McDonnell win can be cast as a partisan correction–whereas a Corzine loss will be hard to explain as other than a partisan rejection.

In that regard, the Corzine numbers must be particularly soothing for the DGA and the White House. And, of course, Gov. Corzine.