Poll: Bush Has Slight Lead in Pa.

Economic concerns are keeping Sen. John Kerry competitive in Pennsylvania, while security and strength of leadership work best for President Bush — and the president has an edge in on-the-ground retail politicking in this sharply contested state, an ABC News poll shows.

About one in five registered voters in Pennsylvania, 21 percent, say they've been contacted by a representative of the Bush campaign asking for their support. That compares with 14 percent who've been contacted by the Kerry campaign. The difference is a small but real one — and in a tight race, this kind of retailing can be crucial to turnout.

The race is essentially tied. The poll found 49 percent of likely voters in Pennsylvania support Bush, 48 percent Kerry. With Ralph Nader in the contest — he's currently off the ballot pending legal appeal — it's 49 percent-46 percent-2 percent. (Among all registered voters, not just those likely to vote, it's 48 percent-48 percent, or 47 percent-47 percent-2 percent with Nader.)

Another race in the state is not as close: incumbent Republican Sen. Arlen Specter leads Democratic challenger Joseph Hoeffel by 55 percent to 38 percent among likely voters. There's a sizable crossover vote, with nearly a third of Kerry's supporters crossing the aisle to back Specter. (Just 13 percent of Bush's support Hoeffel.)

The presidential contest in Pennsylvania is closer than in last week's national ABC News/Washington Post poll. One reason is that there are more Democrats than Republicans among the voter pool (whether this holds on Election Day remains to be seen); also, Kerry is more competitive in the state on issues including the economy, health care and education.

But Bush is very strong in his key areas — security, clarity, leadership — and he's attracting twice as many Democrats (14 percent) as Kerry is Republicans (7 percent). Bush's job approval rating among registered voters is 51 percent, ever so slightly over half, and about what it is nationally.

Issues

Registered voters in Pennsylvania prefer Kerry by an eight-point margin, 50 percent-42 percent, in trust to handle the economy; nationally last week it was Bush +4. And Kerry has 10- to 14-point leads in the state in trust to handle health care and the economic issues of "helping the middle class" and "creating jobs," compared with bare single-digit margins on these nationally.

Still, while Kerry has larger leads on more issues, Bush holds a 16-point advantage in trust to handle terrorism, a central issue here as elsewhere. In a related gauge, 58 percent say the nation is safer now than before Sept. 11, 2001, and they favor Bush by nearly a 40-point margin, 68 percent-29 percent. (However, more nationally, 64 percent, say the nation is safer.)

The importance of issues is quite similar in Pennsylvania as nationally. Thirty-one percent in the state say the economy is the most important issue in their vote; last week it was 27 percent nationally. Twenty-one percent say it's terrorism (25 percent nationally). Iraq is cited as the top issue by 18 percent in Pennsylvania, health care by 15 percent.

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