updated 8/24/2006 9:05:33 AM ET 2006-08-24T13:05:33

Democrat Bob Casey maintains a slight lead over Sen. Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania's Senate race, but his popularity appears to have shrunk, according to an independent poll released Thursday.

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In a three-way contest, the new Keystone Poll found Casey leading Santorum 44 percent to 39 percent among registered voters, a five-point lead. Green Party candidate Carl Romanelli had 4 percent. Thirteen percent were undecided in the poll, which was conducted by Franklin & Marshall College between Aug. 16-21.

In May, before Romanelli entered the race, the same pollster had Casey with a six-point lead over Santorum, the No. 3 Senate Republican.

Twenty percent said they had an unfavorable opinion of Casey, a seven-point increase. The number with a favorable opinion of him was virtually the same at 31 percent. Forty-nine percent didn't know or were undecided.

The number with either a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Santorum remained about the same at 37 percent each. Twenty-six percent didn't know or were undecided.

Casting a light
It appears Santorum has had success in placing Casey, the state treasurer, in a bad light, even as the opinion of Santorum hasn't shifted much, said G. Terry Madonna, the Franklin & Marshall professor who directed the poll.

"Casey has to define himself before Santorum defines him completely," Madonna said.

The Casey campaign said Wednesday that he would go statewide with television ads on Thursday. Santorum has been running ads statewide since late June.

The results were based on telephone interviews with 551 Pennsylvanians. The poll carried a sampling margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

The survey was commissioned by the Philadelphia Daily News, The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, WGAL-TV in Lancaster, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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