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GOP Has Absentee Ballot Advantage in Pennsylvania

While Rep. Joe Sestak (D) appears to have seized the momentum in Pennsylvania’s Senate contest, Keystone State Republicans are far more active than Democrats in early voting activity, according to absentee balloting figures released by the state Wednesday at Roll Call’s request.

Pennsylvania voters have requested nearly 127,000 absentee ballots so far. Of that total, Republican voters made up 50 percent and Democrats made up 42 percent, according to figures collected Tuesday afternoon.

The state records show Republicans are returning their absentee ballots in greater numbers as well. The state has received about 40 percent of requested ballots, and Republican registrations outpace Democrats by 19 points, 56 percent to 37 percent, according to the state data. Absentee ballots made up 5 percent of total turnout in 2008.

There are few states that offer more competitive Congressional contests than Pennsylvania, a swing state where Democrats enjoy a 14-point voter registration advantage. That’s thanks in part to massive registration efforts during the 2008 presidential primary. But that advantage doesn’t show up in the absentee ballots.

“It’s a small sample, but it is a good sign that people are engaged on our side,” said Mike Barley, spokesman for the state Republican Party. “Still, we have a lot of work to do.”

Democrats note that absentee ballot totals have favored Republicans in each of the past two cycles, although the edge was smaller than it appears to be this year.

State Democratic Party spokesman Mark Nicastre said it’s still all about Election Day. “[M]ore and more people are becoming engaged in the race and supporting Joe Sestak over Pat Toomey, and that’s a reflection of the momentum we’ve been able to build with our field strategy that will culminate on Nov. 2.”

Indeed, the absentee figures were released the same day that an independent poll showed Sestak leading the Republican candidate, former Rep. Pat Toomey, for the first time since May. Including leaners, Muhlenberg College found that Sestak has a 3-point edge over his Republican rival. Other polls have shown that Sestak is making up ground with independents and that Toomey’s strong lead seems to have vanished as the race has tightened.

The two are set to square off Wednesday for the first of two debates. Wednesday’s debate will be broadcast at 7 p.m. by ABC News.

Toomey spokeswoman Nachama Soloveichik dismissed the significance of the polling but said the absentee balloting figures are a telling sign.

“Obviously, Pennsylvania has a Democratic registration advantage,” she said. “But I think it’s a sign of what we’ve been seeing on the campaign trail. The enthusiasm is on the Republican side.”

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