Gloves Off in Pennsylvania Senate Race -- New Ads, Cries of Foul, and a New Poll

AP Photo

AP Photo

The Pennsylvania Senate race is a bit of a mystery. There are no witches, no beefy wrestlers, no "whores", not even a colorful third party candidate (even the Sestak vs. White House feud feels like a very distant memory), so it's no wonder not many people are paying that much attention. It's pretty low key, but that doesn't mean it's not a real hair-pulling fight.

The Republican, a quintessential conservative former congressman, Pat Toomey, has maintained a varying lead for months, nothing one would call safe, but the Democrat, soft-spoken two-term congressman Joe Sestak, is keeping the race close.

The DSCC released their own poll in this race Wednesday, conducted by Garin-Hart-Yang, that has the two competitors in a statistical dead heat, with Sestak ahead by two points. This is the first time, however, that Sestak has been ahead in any poll since May, so it's definitely questionable.

The poll was conducted from Oct. 8-10, which puts it pretty much after the Obama-Biden one-two punch visit Sunday, but perhaps the bump for the Democrat comes after weeks of the president barnstorming the country to rev up the liberal base (though it is important to note Obama is deeply unpopular in the Keystone State). The two candidates have also been blanketing the airwaves with attack ads, so that has an effect, as well.

Still, a Real Clear Politics average of polls, which does not include the DSCC poll, gives Toomey a near eight point advantage.

The NRSC came out swinging Wednesday dropping its first TV ad in the race with the announcer declaring, ""There's left. There's far left. Then there's Joe Sestak." See more here. The television spot portrays Sestak as a big-spending liberal, slamming him for his votes on a trifecta of measures that many House Democratic incumbents across the country are struggling with --- approval of the $814 billion stimulus bill, the healthcare reform legislation, and the controversial "cap and trade" bill.

Sestak and the DSCC have been working overtime on the airwaves to portray Toomey as a "Wall Street wheeler-dealer" and out of touch with ordinary Pennsylvanians in these tough economic times.

And Toomey seemed to acknowledge that the Wall Street argument could stick with a major speech Wednesday pinning the current recession on the bursting housing bubble, and chastising Congress for ignoring his warnings about troubled mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Toomey touted legislation he introduced in 2003 that he said would have reined in the housing behemoths which eventually had to be bailed out by taxpayers, saying, "I saw the dangers they posed to our financial system and taxpayers," saying had his legislation been enacted "the mortgage bubble could never have gotten close to the size it reached...Unfortunately, virtually all Democrats, and too many Republicans in Congress, were perfectly content to whistle past the graveyard and ignore the warnings that I and others were making."

And the liberal group, Vote Vets, which supports veteran candidates for office (Sestak is a retired Navy Admiral), unleashed a doozy of an ad against Toomey Wednesday, one the Republican immediately refuted. It's a modest $400,000 buy on cable and broadcast nets.

In the ad, three young veterans of the war in Afghanistan, standing before an American flag, criticize Toomey for a vote he took in 2003 that stopped a $1,500 combat bonus. The vets take turns saying parts of the following, "Congressman Toomey supports letting Wall Street execs keep every penny of their bonuses. Toomey said that money for troops was ‘wasteful spending.' Bonuses for Wall Street are fine? But bonuses for troops are wasteful? I expected the worst in Afghanistan. I expected better from Congressman Toomey."

But the Toomey campaign declared the spot "false and disgraceful," saying, "Pat Toomey never called bonuses for veterans wasteful and you will not find any such quote. Pat called massive spending bills, containing hundreds of pork projects wasteful. In fact, in the quote in question, Pat Toomey was arguing that veterans' needs should be voted on separately and should not be held hostage to wasteful spending."

Toomey did vote against the combat bonus, but so did the late Cong. John Murtha, D-Penn., a former Marine and longtime head of the defense spending panel, who at the time called the bonus measure "not the right way to do it," and advocated for the measure's defeat, because his committee had already given a "big health care package" to the service members, as well as other monies.

Four weeks after that bonus vote, in a major defense spending bill, Congress, with Toomey's support, approved a 4.15% raise for the troops.