Sestak just ahead of Specter in final poll

A final Quinnipiac University poll before Tuesday shows challenger Joe Sestak at 42, incumbent Arlen Specter at 41

Topics: Arlen Specter vs. Joe Sestak, War Room, 2010 Elections,

Sestak just ahead of Specter in final pollRep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., a candidate in the Senate Democratic primary race, is seen during a campaign stop near the Olney Transportation Center in Philadelphia, Friday, May 14, 2010. Sestak is in a close race in Tuesday's Democratic primary with Sen. Arlen Specter. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)(Credit: Matt Rourke)

The final Quinnipiac University poll in Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senate primary, released Monday morning, showed Rep. Joe Sestak just barely ahead of Sen. Arlen Specter, 42-41 — with 16 percent of voters still undecided a day before the election.

What those undecided voters do could make the difference on Tuesday. But it’s not entirely clear who they are or whether they’ll vote. Both campaigns are hoping for turnout that matches their needs on Election Day. For Specter, that means a lot of votes in Philadelphia, especially in black neighborhoods that helped boost President Obama to a 10-point win over John McCain two years ago. For Sestak, that means a lower turnout, with fewer of the 2008 “surge” voters showing up; Sestak isn’t that well known among infrequent voters, and most political operatives here think a good showing by casual voters would help Specter out.



From talking to people involved in the race and in Pennsylvania politics, the likeliest bet seems to be that anyone who’s still undecided may not bother voting in the race at all. (Sestak’s camp, of course, thinks the undecideds will break for their guy; if you still haven’t made your mind up for Specter now, what would make you go his way in the end?) Which means the winner may be determined by who does the best job of dragging out their supporters to the polls. By most conventional measures, that would be Specter, who’s backed by organized labor, the Democratic Party establishment (including the Philadelphia party machine) and just about every elected official from Mayor Michael Nutter all the way up to Obama.

Then again, incumbents don’t usually win races where their support is stuck in the low-to-mid 40s. Maybe the safest prediction would be, to borrow a line from Specter, not proven?

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

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