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English Trails in Pennsylvania Poll

There’s a reason the national committees are putting unprecedented resources into Pennsylvania’s 3rd district.

After holding on to his Rust Belt seat in northwestern Pennsylvania for more than a decade, it appears Democrats finally have a good shot at nabbing Rep. Phil English’s (R) seat.

According to a new poll conducted exclusively for Roll Call, businesswoman Kathy Dahlkemper (D) was leading English 49 percent to 45 percent, with 6 percent undecided. The automated SurveyUSA poll of 618 likely voters was taken Sept. 26-28 and had a margin of error of 4 points.

In the poll, English ran behind Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the Republican presidential standard-bearer. The GOP nominee led Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) 48 percent to 46 percent. While 82 percent of McCain backers supported English, only 76 percent of Obama supporters chose Dahlkemper.

President Bush won the district by 6 points in 2004 and by 5 points in 2000.

This cycle marks the first time in more than a decade that English is in a single-digit race. Most recently, the seven-term Congressman received 54 percent against a poorly funded Democrat who received 42 percent in 2006.

English’s lackluster performance in 2006 gave national Democrats enough hope for the district that they recruited early on for the seat. Though they initially supported a local official to run in the Democratic primary, national party leaders stayed out of the race when it became a four-way contest. Dahlkemper, who had never run for office before, resoundingly won the April primary with 45 percent of the vote.

Both parties have already started to drop big bucks into the district. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s independent expenditure arm has spent $300,000 on the race to date and has reserved more than $1 million in advertising time through Election Day. The DCCC also went up this week with its third advertisement of the cycle — a spot blasting English for voting to privatize Social Security.

The cash-strapped National Republican Congressional Committee reportedly went up with an ad in the district Tuesday knocking Dahlkemper — the first of its kind from its independent expenditure unit. The NRCC already bought $26,400 in mail for the district, which is part of nearly $700,000 that it has reserved to spend on the 3rd district race.

But while his party’s committee is low on cash, English is not: At the end of June, the Republican had $787,000 in the bank. Dahlkemper, who spent much of her funds on her competitive primary in April, only had about $128,000 in her campaign account.

Dahlkemper’s lead in the poll and her unusually high name identification for a first-time challenger might also be a result of the primary. Not only does the Democrat’s family own a well-known business by the same name in the Erie region, but Dahlkemper also outspent her Democratic primary opponents — dropping more than $130,000 of her own money into the race.

Dahlkemper could also be getting a boost from independent voters, who appeared to marginally favor her candidacy. In the poll, Dahlkemper received support from 47 percent of independents, 77 percent of Democrats and 19 percent of Republicans. English had the support from 43 percent of independents, 76 percent of Republicans and 18 percent of Democrats.

Dahlkemper also had a greater lead among female voters in the survey, while English held a smaller lead among likely male voters. English had the support of 52 percent of male voters, compared with 43 percent for Dahlkemper. The Democrat has support from 55 percent of female voters compared with only 38 percent of women who said they planned to vote for English.

Although English had more voters say they think of him favorably than Dahlkemper did, her favorable to unfavorable rating was a net plus-11, while his was a net negative-1: 36 percent of respondents saw English in a favorable light, while 37 percent viewed him unfavorably. Dahlkemper had 34 percent of voters offer a favorable opinion of her, with 23 percent giving her an unfavorable rating.

English, who competed unsuccessfully to become NRCC chairman this cycle, knows he’s in for a tough race this cycle. His campaign issued a negative advertisement at the end of September targeting Dahlkemper for saying in a Democratic primary debate that she was opposed to the death penalty for Osama bin Laden.

In an e-mail to supporters Tuesday, Dahlkemper wrote that the campaign’s internal polling shows “we’ve got Phil English on the run and that we will win this race in November.” Dahlkemper’s campaign did not give any specifics about the poll in the mass e-mail, however.

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