U.S. Rep. Chris Carney and Republican challenger Tom Marino are locked in a statistical dead heat with less than a month left before the Nov. 2 election, according to a poll released Monday by Lycoming College in Williamsport.

Carney, a two-term Democrat from Dimock Township, holds a 43 percent to 40 percent lead over Marino, the former U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, with 16 percent of voters still undecided, according to the poll.

Carney's slim lead fell within the poll's margin of error of plus or minus 5.1 percentage points, meaning he and Marino are "statistically tied," said Jonathan Williamson, the chairman of the college's Department of Political Science.

Lycoming students, under Williamson's direction, polled 370 likely voters in the 10th Congressional District between Sept. 26 and Sept. 30. Their sample included 54.7 percent Republicans, 37.8 percent Democrats and 7.5 percent registered as independents or with a third party.

The poll showed support for the candidates splitting largely along party lines, with Carney drawing 86 percent of Democrats, 42 percent of independents (down about 10 percent from two years ago) and 13 percent of Republicans and Marino tallying 69 percent of Republicans, 40 percent of independents and 4 percent of Democrats.

Carney defeated Chris Hackett by 12 percentage points in the 2008 election.

Reaction to the poll Monday also split along party lines, with Carney spokesman Josh Drobnyk describing the poll as confirmation of his campaign's building momentum and Marino spokesman Jason Fitzgerald saying the numbers, and Carney's failure to win a majority of support, were "more good news for the Marino campaign."

Marino, who held a four-percentage-point lead according to a Sept. 26 Times Leader/Critical Insights poll, held within the margin of error of the Lycoming College poll despite a lingering controversy over unsubstantiated claims that he received authorization from the Justice Department to help Dunmore businessman/felon Louis DeNaples obtain a casino license.

Carney, dogged by Republicans for his support of health care reform and economic stimulus measures, scored better than Marino when voters were asked if they viewed each candidate favorably or unfavorably, Williamson said.

Carney scored 52 percent favorable and 33 percent unfavorable. Marino scored 37 percent favorable and 28 percent unfavorable. Sixteen percent said they had no opinion of Carney and 35 percent said they had no opinion of Marino.

"Even though this is a favorable year for the Republicans, many people in the district still don't know Marino," Williamson said. "When they do, it appears that Democrats have had success defining who he is."

Newspaper reports over the weekend, after the poll was conducted, continued to define Marino. The Allentown Morning Call reported the Justice Department was investigating Marino at the time of his October 2007 resignation and The Citizens' Voice reported Marino attempted to help another criminal friend have his drug conviction expunged in 1998.

"Every day seems to bring further news of Marino's failed ethics and the latest revelation makes clear why he has continued to hide the truth from the people of the 10th District," Drobnyk said.

Fitzgerald, the Marino spokesman, said Carney's poll numbers would continue to fall as voters focus more on issues and less on controversy.

"As an incumbent, his numbers have nowhere to go but down," Fitzgerald said, noting Carney's support for the health care reform and the "liberal agenda" of President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, both Democrats. "Tom Marino will win this election."

msisak@citizensvoice.com, 570-821-2061