PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Whether barnstorming by plane or pounding the pavement, Republican and Democratic candidates for Pennsylvania governor and U.S. Senate spent a whirlwind day of campaigning Monday meant to energize their supporters hours before the start of voting.
Republican Senate nominee Pat Toomey whipped up the crowd at a packed gymnasium in the Lehigh Valley, capping a furious dash across Pennsylvania as polls showed him with a slight lead over Democratic challenger Joe Sestak. He was joined on the campaign trail by GOP gubernatorial hopeful Tom Corbett — campaign signs dubbed them “the more jobs team” — as Republicans hoped to take the governor’s mansion for the first time in eight years.
Democrats brought in a pair of party luminaries to pump up their supporters. Former President Bill Clinton shared a stage in McKeesport with Democratic gubernatorial nominee Dan Onorato, while Michelle Obama campaigned for Onorato and Sestak on Monday night at a rally at the University of Pennsylvania that drew more than 1,000.
Democrats have a registration advantage of more than 1 million voters, thanks in part to a surge two years ago in support of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. But the question is whether Democrats can get those voters to the polls Tuesday to counter what election experts say is widespread discontent with the sluggish economy and high unemployment and strong Republican opposition to the Obama administration.
“They’ve gone too far,” Toomey declared at a rally held north of Philadelphia in an area that he represented for three terms in the House. Toomey and Sestak are competing to succeed five-term Sen. Arlen Specter, whom Sestak beat in the May primary.
Toomey recited a list of Republican objections to the policies of Obama and the Democratic-led Congress, among them “serial bailouts of failing companies, the government nationalizing whole industries, spending money on a scale I never thought was possible.”
To the cheers of hundreds of supporters, he predicted:
“Tomorrow across Pennsylvania and across America, we’re going to get it right.”
Not so fast, Michelle Obama said.
“We have come too far,” she told young people gathered at the chilly University of Pennsylvania quadrangle, asking them to support candidates who will help her husband advance his unfinished agenda.
Sitting out the election, she said, could stop progress for people struggling to stay in the middle class, afford college or obtain health care.
Sestak, who appeared with Obama, started his final day on the campaign trail more than 12 hours earlier — shaking hands and handling out fliers before the sun was up in the Democratic bastion of Philadelphia.
“A lot of people have invested in me their hopes and their beliefs that maybe we can change things, so if there’s one more hand to shake, I just want to shake it and say, ‘Please come and support me,”‘ the former Navy admiral said.
John McGowan, 73, a general contractor sipping coffee at a northeast Philadelphia diner where Sestak was greeting voters, said he supported Obama’s stimulus plans.
“I see work going on around here and I think collapse has pretty much been averted,” the registered Democrat said.
But he also planned to split his ticket, viewing Corbett as better qualified to be governor than Onorato, the elected Allegheny County executive — a politician from the other side of the state whose record McGowan said he knew nothing about.
Corbett urged Republican activists to get out the vote, so he can begin the spending cuts that he says are crucial to the state’s future.
“Don’t do it for me, don’t do it for yourselves; do it for the children of Pennsylvania because that’s what this race is about. … This is a generational election,” he told more than 100 supporters in Philadelphia before boarding a plane with Toomey for rallies in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Harrisburg, Johnstown, Erie and Pittsburgh regions.
GOP optimism was affirmed by the fact that Republicans cast more absentee ballots than Democrats.
An Associated Press analysis showed 59,365 of the 79,464 ballots sent to Republican voters were returned, a nearly 75 percent submission rate, while Democrats returned 43,392, or 63 percent, of the 68,520 ballots mailed to them.
Hoping to overcome Corbett’s persistent lead in the polls, Onorato tapped Bill Clinton one more time. The former president made his sixth visit to the state to campaign for the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, appearing with Onorato at a rally at the Penn State campus in McKeesport, outside Pittsburgh.
“It’s about turnout now. It’s about getting out tomorrow,” Onorato said. “It’s right there in front of us.”
The last full day of campaigning came as state elections officials said 8.5 million Pennsylvanians were registered to vote in Tuesday’s election, down from the record of 8.8 million, set two years ago.
The Department of State said Monday there are 4.3 million registered Democrats, 3.1 million Republicans and barely 1 million in all other categories.
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