Pa. statewide candidates focus on east

PITTSBURGH (AP) - October 15, 2010

If you want to catch Pennsylvania's candidates for governor and U.S. Senate at a campaign event ahead of the Nov. 2 election, it's best to head east.

That's where Republican Tom Corbett and Democrat Dan Onorato are spending most of their time vying to become the state's next governor; the same is true for Republican Pat Toomey and Democrat Joe Sestak, both of whom hope to replace U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter in Washington.

Even national surrogates for the candidates have been largely staying in the eastern part of the state.

"It has almost nothing to do with geography and everything to do with numbers. You are talking about where the voters live who are likely to be up for grabs and the largest pool of them happen to be east of the Susquehanna River," said Franklin & Marshall College pollster G. Terry Madonna. "It's like a chess game: Every game piece matters. It's just that some pieces are in play and some matter more."

About 4 million of the state's 12.5 million residents, or about a third, live in Philadelphia and its suburbs.

President Barack Obama has been in the state's largest city three times this month: for a political rally with Sestak, a private fundraiser for the candidate and to deliver his back-to-school speech. Vice President Joe Biden attended the same rally and spoke at an event in Scranton; less visibly, he attended two private fundraisers for Democrats in Pittsburgh this week.

In the gubernatorial race, both Onorato and Corbett are from Pittsburgh and have established bases here, said Joseph DiSarro, chairman of the political science department at Washington and Jefferson College in Washington, Pa.

"You are not going to change many people's minds in western Pennsylvania on those two candidates," he said.

Both candidates have been fundraising heavily in western Pennsylvania, where they have support and connections, DiSarro said. They will debate this weekend in Pittsburgh.

But he said there are still many undecided voters around the state, and Corbett and Onorato are looking to these areas for support. Corbett especially should be looking for votes in the more rural areas of the state, known as the "T" region, while Onorato needs support from Philadelphia and its suburbs, where the majority of Democrats in the state reside, DiSarro said.

"They are more or less working on constituencies outside of western Pennsylvania where they feel there is an opportunity to persuade undecided voters to make a move," DiSarro said.

Onorato's spokesman, Brian Herman, said the campaign is trying to make sure Onorato spends his time wisely, which means going where he can meet the most people.

"We look for an opportunity to speak to lots of voters and they're concentrated in the east and that tends to be the way it is," Herman said.

Nachama Soloveichik, Toomey's spokeswoman, said since his headquarters is in his hometown, Allentown, it's natural that he'd spend a lot of time near home. But she said he's visited every county in the state and has been to Pittsburgh many times, including Thursday.

"I think the goal really is to get everywhere," she said.

DiSarro said just because you may not see the candidates in a certain area doesn't mean they aren't campaigning there. He notes that Sestak has done an especially good job of using e-mails and the web in the campaign.

And western Pennsylvanians shouldn't hang up their campaign signs and buttons just yet.

"I think you will see a little more of them in the waning days of the campaign," Madonna said.

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