Voters in Pa. express anger about economy, health care law

By Lois Romano
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 2, 2010; 4:38 PM

ST. DAVID'S, PA. - At polling sites outside Philadelphia, voters expressed frustration and fury over unemployment, what they see as unfettered spending in Washington, and the new federal health care law - a measure some are convinced will ultimately cost them more in taxes and premiums.

One recurring theme among Republican voters: Nothing good can happen when one party is in total power.

"Everyone thinks this a Republican tidal wave - it's not," said Chuck Benhayon, the state constable and a Republican at a Buck's County grade school and polling center. "It's just an angry electorate voting. These guys have two years to deliver and if they don't, if nothing happens, they are out of there. Voters are smart and sophisticated. They want results."

Turnout was unexpectedly high in the state as voters chose a new senator and governor, the Associated Press reported. The Senate race between Democrat Joe Sestak and Republican Pat Toomey is considered a toss-up. The Republican candidate for governor, Tom Corbett, is comfortably ahead of the Democrat, Daniel Onorato, in recent polls. And several members of Congress are struggling to hold on their seats.

"Lousy," said Judy Dreisbach succinctly when asked how she thought the country was doing. "Obama -he just tells the Congress what to do. They're just lying down for him. You have to have arguing."

Although Dreisbach said she didn't vote for Obama, she felt good when he was elected, felt that something might happen. "I want change. Obama promised change, that he would do something. He did nothing," said the 68-year-old homemaker.

Bernard McHugh, a retired steelworker, said, "I want people in there who aren't afraid of losing their jobs every two years. We have too much debt. We can't spent what we don't have"

"We've got to get a balance back in Congress," said former Republican congressman Mike Fitzpatrick, who's running for his old seat. "The last time we had a balanced budget was with a Democratic president and a Republican Congress- maybe we can do that again. People want checks and balances."

Pat Harris, a health technician, agreed that there does need to be balance in government but added that the Democrats haven't had enough time to accomplish needed changes. "We can't keep switching every two years- we have to give them a chance to do something," she said.

At least $25 million has been spent on the Senate contest - largely on negative ads - in a state that for years was reliably blue but has been listing Republican in this cycle.

Sestak and Toomey have each tried to suit up as the voice of moderation and to paint the other as an extremist.

"Honestly, I didn't know there was any space there, but he has found a way to the left of Nancy Pelosi," Toomey sniped the other day.

For his part, Sestak has tagged Toomey a prototypical Big Business Republican who cares more about Wall Street than about the middle class. To drive home the point, the retired admiral produced one of the more memorable ads of the campaign - about dog poop. Starring the family dog Belle, it compares cleaning up after her to cleaning up the economic mess created, it says, by Toomey, a former congressman, and George W. Bush.

"It made me sick to bail out the banks, but I had to clean up the mess left by these guys," Sestak says in the ad, standing in front of a photo of Toomey and Bush.

The race has been unpredictable from the get-go. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania's long-serving Republican senator, abruptly switched parties to avoid a GOP primary - and he got Sestak instead. Few Democrats believed Sestak could win the primary, and the party establishment tried to get him to quit to clear the path for Specter. Even after Sestak trounced Specter, Democrats didn't see victory in the face of a strong showing by Toomey.

That changed a few weeks ago when the polls started tightening.

Sestak has in part benefited from the missteps of Christine O'Donnell, the Delaware Senate candidate and tea party conservative, who advertises in the Philadelphia media market to reach parts of Delaware. He has put Toomey on the defensive, labeling him an extremist who shares the positions of O'Donnell and Sarah Palin.

Peter Houle, who lives in Philadelphia and works in Delaware, says he will vote Tuesday because the tea party scares him and "Toomey is supported by the tea party."

"They have a radical agenda and Americans are voting in anger - not facts," Houle said.

Toomey served in the House of Representatives from 1999-2005, when Republicans were in the majority; Sestak was elected to Congress in 2006.

The Washington Post has reporters out in ten states on election day. Follow all the feeds at PostPolitics.

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