Pryor Closing a Bit in Arkansas – Race Back to a Toss-Up

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Make no bones about it. Tom Cotton(R) remains the favorite in the Arkansas race. But, a Pryor victory is certainly within the realm of possibilities. Both candidates have bad news. Neither has much good news. Tom Cotton keeps falling from his peaks a few weeks ago. He’s now stuck below 46% in the model. Pryor’s (D) numbers look even worse as he’s stuck below 43%, not good for an incumbent in a GOP-leaning state, at least at the federal level. But, Pryor’s proven far more energetic than Cotton in the closing weeks. Couple Bill Clinton with Pryor’s domination in debating a rather bland Cotton and the Democrat still has a fighting chance.

Now, many fundamentals remain against Pryor. In many ways, the remaining group of voters should break against him, based on historic dynamics and current figures of who remains out there. But, Pryor is well-liked in the state, other than his affiliation with the President’s party. Additionally, he has plenty of money to close this race and appears far more comfortable on the campaign trail.

For now, Cotton still has the advantage. He’s closing by tying Pryor to Obama’s decisions around ISIS and even Ebola. Will that work? Maybe, but it’s not the strongest close with undecided voters. Meanwhile, Pryor keeps trying to sell himself as a moderate Arkansas guy. If this type of data hold, this race may take awhile to count on election night. In the last update, Cotton was up 4.0%. Now, it’s dropped to 3.0%. If that trend continues, this race will certainly be worth watching until the end, though it remains Cotton’s to lose.

Alaska Moves Back to “Leans GOP”

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Dan Sullivan(R) still looks like the slight favorite in the Alaska Senate race. No non-partisan poll has shown him trailing over the last month, and that’s normally pretty good news for a GOP candidate in such a GOP friendly state. Mark Begich(D) was always going to have an uphill climb here. The state is dominated by GOP voters and Begich(D) barely won in 2008, despite his opponent being investigated by the FBI at the time. Jump ahead six years and Begich is doing about as well as can be expected, but it still may not be enough in a state where the fundamentals have always been strongly against him.

Dan Sullivan has shown to be a competent candidate, and that’s perhaps all the GOP needed in Alaska this cycle. That said, things remain close and Begich is by no means out of it. In fact, I have Begich(D) has close as 2% in one model line. With the lack of data here and the unpredictability of the state, keep an eye out. After all, Alaska could end up deciding control of the Senate. If that’s the case, you have to remember that the state is still voting when all the other competitive Senate elections are already reporting their results. This effect has been one of the factors that has led to varied results compared to expectations as many voters may simply stay home if the election seems to be done. But, if Senate control is looking competitive at 10pm EST, expect some last minute ground game action here. That would probably generally favor Sullivan, but that’s tough to say. As neither candidate is near 50%, this one is likely to remain competitive ’til the end, but Sullivan remains a decent bet. So, for now, the state shifts back to “Leans GOP.”

 

 

What’s Going On in Iowa Senate?

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About two weeks ago, media pundits cried, “Iowa is slipping away for Democrats.” Yet, I was never seeing movement for Ernst much above 1% overall. But, when a singular DMR poll showed Ernst suddenly up 6%, the sky seemed to be falling for Braley. Now, DMR is out with another poll showing both candidates up, but Braley quickly closing: Ernst 47-Braley 46. Meanwhile many pollsters show the race to be virtually tied. Others show Ernst up 5-9 points. So, what gives?

First, some of these numbers are from partisan pollsters. Second, while the margins of these polls greatly vary, the medians for the candidates across all of these polls generally do not. Even when Ernst is shown leading, her numbers are still generally stuck in the mid 40s, about 44%, to be exact. Sure, a few pollsters such as Quinnipiac have shown her hitting 50%, a number that should not be entirely ignored. Still, that number remains an outlier for her. While many polls have Ernst holding a decent margin, it is often not her strength but Braley’s weakness, a la the first DMR poll showing him way down at 38%. Yet, in that poll, Ernst was at her magical 44% mark. I’m over simplfying, but if you look at the medians, Braley comes in at about 43% overall. And thus, you have a pretty good illustration of this race, once you take out much of the noise. The candidates are quite close, but many voters are still quite unhappy with their choices.

While this is arguably not good news for either candidate, and while Ernst certainly has some occasionally very positive numbers, I still think it’s troublesome for her that I have her stuck at 44.2% in the overall model and not yet hitting 45% in any major model line. When it’s an off year election, your base is fired up, and the President of the opposing party remains unpopular, those numbers should already be showing up for her. Generally, the indication would be that many of the remaining voters (which still number over 10% in the model) are either a) not going to vote or b) not wanting to vote for either candidate but are more in line with Braley ideologically than Ernst. The question remains: will those voters not show up or will they hold their nose and vote for Braley by a decent net margin? At the moment, it seems like Braley may still be able to net a few votes out of that which remains. Though, I’ve been saying this for months. So far, it hasn’t happened. At the same time, neither has Ernst put it away.

Two obvious things can happen between now and election day. 1) This race breaks one way or the other. Or, 2) The model numbers for both tick up and this remains a ground game. In that case, it’s really tough to say who comes out ahead. Democrats in Iowa have an amazing ground game that turns out their base early through the use of absentee ballots. The GOP, in Western Iowa especially, are sure to come out to vote against the President and to vote FOR Ernst. Don’t discount either effort. But, again, the GOP has just as much of a problem on their hands as Democrats here, based on numbers like this.

The Current Model: Ernst(R) 44.2% – Braley(D) 43.9%

Kentucky Moves Back to a Toss-Up

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Do I believe Alison Lundergan Grimes has likely pulled narrowly ahead in the Kentucky Senate race, a la the recent SurveyUSA poll in the state? Doubtful. Does the model think the race has significantly tightened to the point where there’s a statistically decent chance that Grimes could pull out a victory? Yes.

While Mitch McConnell(R) had pulled into a high single digit lead in September, Grimes seems to have been clawing back as of late. An Ipsos poll had her down 4%, a margin many pollsters have had her at earlier in the cycle. Additionally, that now famous Survey USA poll certainly caused a lot of chatter this week. Keep in mind another thing: despite Jack Conway’s disastrous end to his campaign post-aqua Buddha commercial against Rand Paul in 2010, he still outperformed most polls, even in Kentucky, even in an off-year election. I say ‘even-if’ a lot because most folks would tell you that is not supposed to happen. But that’s why you shouldn’t listen to most folks.

The model still shows McConnell probably has a small lead. In none of the model lines is Grimes ahead, but the lines now range from a Tie to a 4.8% McConnell lead. Overall, the number comes in at McConnell +2.3%. With those dynamics, and neither candidate hitting 47% at the moment, I’m moving the model back to a Toss-Up today. I would love to see more data, but Grimes certainly appears to have a fighting chance. How has she done it? I think Bill Clinton and guns are a good place to start. McConnell’s horrendous unpopularity and being tied to an even more unpopular governing body in Congress never helps either.

Grimes has run one of the best campaigns in the country. The dynamics of the state remain against her. Unlike other Democrats, she has not focused on the Koch Brother attack strategy like Braley has an Iowa, a tactic that is a waste of energy. Voters are not deciding based on the Koch Brothers, despite whatever research convinced Harry Reid that it was a good 2014 strategy. If Grimes is somehow able to win, it will be because she has convinced enough Kentucky voters that, though they may not like Barack Obama, he’s only going to be President for two more years. Instead, she could be their Senator for the future instead of the McConnell past. It’s a strong strategy that she has been using, but it’s still got an uphill climb.

North Carolina Senate Moves From “Toss-Up” to “Leans Dem”

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A big day for Democrats as, for now, I’m taking North Carolina off the Toss-Up list. While I moved this race to “Leans Dem” for a brief period in the middle of the summer, Tillis had a decently strong month of August. Yet, that’s quickly faded again as we’re now halfway into September. With a month and a half until election day, all the data points would indicate that Kay Hagan has likely pulled into a very real, though potentially small, lead.

For the last several model updates, I’ve consistently had Hagan up in the 3-4% range. The problem for her is that she still remains below 48%. The advantage for her is that she’s been slowly climbing toward that mark as Democrats and moderates have been coming home to her. She ended strong against Elizabeth Dole to win six years ago, and she may be doing so again here. Hagan is a moderate Democrat from Greensboro, a bellwether part of the state that’s not known for being the liberal hubs of Charlotte or the Research Triangle of Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill. Instead, Hagan, like Mark Pryor, plays well in middle of the road cities like Greensboro, Winston-Salem and Wilmington. The difference between Pryor and Hagan is that NC is simply much, much bluer than Arkansas. The state is now anchored by the 1-40 corridor which is filled with young professionals and educated, white collar transplants from the North and West. (Raleigh and Durham were just ranked as the #2 and #3 most educated cities in the country, only eclipsed by Ann Arbor, if that gives you a perspective on the make-up of these cities. Throw in Chapel Hill/Orange County in, which is the most liberal county in the entire South, and Democrats have a decent base in the state.) To win, Democrats need big margins in these parts of the state and then must carry Winston-Salem, Greensboro, and Wilmington by at least a few points. With her base in the Winston-Salem/Greensboro area, Hagan gets an advantage.

Tillis is simply stuck in the low to mid 40s. He’s yet to show that he can convert those remaining voters in the state. He’s tied to a deeply unpopular state legislature that has dragged him down, much like the unpopular Democrat-controlled legislature in Colorado has hurt Udall and Hickenlooper.

Overall, I have Tillis tracking in the 40-44% range with Hagan in the 45-48% range. As such, I’m moving this race to “Leans Dem” today.

North Carolina Senate Rating: Moves from “Toss-Up” to “Leans Dem”

Model: Hagan(D) 47.5% – Tillis(R) 43.7%

Alaska Senate Moves From “Leans Dem” to “Toss-Up”

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The Alaska Senate race is anyone’s guess. I really mean that- anyone who tells you they know who is ahead is being dishonest.

First of all, there’s very little data from the race. What does exist is additionally varied and neither candidate is nearing 50%. (That’s not uncommon in Alaska where 3rd Party candidates can get decent numbers, but it does make predicting the race very difficult when the numbers are so close.) Additionally, I’d be very leery, no matter what the data points show, of predicting a Begich(D) victory with numbers this close. In August, the race moved to “Leans Dem” because Begich(D) was up 4-6% in the model. Even then, I wrote about my leeriness to move the race that way, but I was relying on the data. Today, Begich’s lead is down to a tiny and almost meaningless 0.6% in the race. For now, that means I’m still at Dems 51 in the ‘if you forced me predictions,’ but I may qualitatively bet against Begich if this were the day before the election. Why?

Alaska polling has traditionally been quite terrible. I sometimes wonder if Alaska is the place social science goes to die. Begich was supposed to beat Ted Stevens by a pretty decent margin but ended up squeaking it out by a hair. In the Lisa Murkowski write-in drama, the Democratic candidate way underperformed come election day. Remote voters? A vast land of a state with drastically different demographics? Strong third party and independent numbers? A small population where small swings can make big differences? Thousands of voters who live out-of-state and keep their residency for the tax benefits, resulting in a wave of absentee ballotts? (Many of these voters are conservative military members who may have been stationed in Alaska at some point in their career and maintain residency years later). All of these small differences make for more unpredictable results than in most states. With that, a 3% candidate lead in the model in Alaska does not instill in me the same type of statistical confidence that I would have in any other state.

For as little polling as there is in the state, the data is actually not ‘that’ noisy. PPP has Begich up 5-6% in their two most recent surveys but has him stuck at 43%. Back in late June, Basswood, a R-leaning pollster, had Sullivan up 5%. Meanwhile, the Senate Majority PAC’s poll by Harstad recently showed Begich up 5% as well. That is actually not a great number for him considering the internal nature of the poll. Thus, today’s model showing the race stuck around 46% for both candidates illustrates the unknown nature of the state’s victor.

As further indication of the closeness of the race, Sullivan is tracking in the 41-46% range overall. Begich is in the 42-47% range. Thus, this race could easily end up being a 4-6% victory either way. So, hold onto your hats. At the moment, Senate control could VERY well come down to this state. At the earliest, if a candidate is a clear victor, we’ll know in the wee hours of the morning on election night, East Coast Time. If this race is close, we may not know for weeks who controls the Senate. Keep in mind that early returns from East Coast states will be coming in while Alaska is still voting. How might that affect last minute voting on election day? An interesting election year it is…

Alaska Senate Model: Moves from “Leans Dem” to “Toss-Up”

Alaska Model: Begich(D) 46.5% – Sullivan(R) 45.9%

Michigan Senate Moves to “Safe Dem”

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This race hasn’t been all that competitive all year, but Land has been ‘close enough’ for the race to stay potentially interesting. As election day draws closer and closer, the race has remained quite stable. If anything, Peters(D) has seemed to be shoring up the Dem leaning bent of the state as his model numbers have slowly ticked up from the 5-6% range to the 7-8% range over the last several weeks.

Today, I have Peters(D) up 49.8% to Land(R) 42.1%. While Peters is still shy of that magic 50% mark and a decent amount of voters are hanging out there in this race, the money for Land is going to dry up in October if there are not some dramatically different numbers in the next two weeks. Land’s numbers are simply stuck in the low-40s with no signs of improving. At this point, it appears she’d have to win every undecided voter or convert Peters voters. With data like this, it normally would take a collapse of the leading candidate in the remaining weeks for that to happen. Peters may not be the most enthralling candidate in the world, but he’s certainly shown he can run a competent campaign.

Land’s model lines range from 38-43% while Peters’s range from 46-50%. The trend is clear. While Land could perhaps close this race back to the mid-single digits, there are simply no signs she is on track to win this race. In fact, it would be far more plausible at the moment that she’d lose by double digits than actually win. As such, I’m moving this race to “Safe Dem” today.

Michigan Senate Rating: Moves from “Likely Dem” to “Safe Dem”

Model: Peters(D) 49.8% – Land(R) 42.1%. 

Kentucky Senate Moves to “Leans GOP”

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Mitch McConnell may be shoring up his very red state as the last days of summer tick down. This race has been a Toss-Up all summer long, but I’m shifting it to “Leans GOP” today as GOP and conservative Democrat voters in the state of Kentucky are “coming home” to the candidate that is McConnell. The problem for Grimes is not her but Barack Obama. This was always going to be an uphill climb for her to win in a state where the President has a low 30s approval rating. Voters in the state simply don’t appear to want another vote for the Obama administration in the Senate, no matter how much they don’t like Mitch McConnell. The same type of ad campaign is hitting Mark Begich, Mark Pryor, Mary Landrieu and Kay Hagan. As I reside in NC, I can tell you I don’t think I’ve gone a day without seeing an ad connecting Kay Hagan to Barack Obama since last winter. While Obama is more popular in NC than in KY, his numbers are pretty sour here as well. Keep in mind, KY, WV, and TN are some of the only places that Obama did worse than John Kerry, so there’s been a challenge there for Grimes that is quite daunting. That reality is finally being shown in the numbers.

Is Grimes out of it at this point? Of course, anything is possible. The best news for her is that McConnell is still below 50%, albeit narrowly so. No pollster has had Grimes better than 4% behind since July, and the momentum is clearly against her. While McConnell is not popular, all of these ads have taken a toll on Grimes whose own popularity has been on the decline, as is often the case for any challenger faced with such a negative barrage. And so, the GOP may be finally shoring up this seat.

Here’s an example of the McConnell Ads:

KY Rating: Moves from “Toss-Up” to “Leans GOP”

Model: McConnell(R) 49.4% – Grimes (D) 44.4%

Kansas Senate Gets Shaken Up; Gets Moved to Toss-Up

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Well, this is interesting. If you haven’t heard, the Democratic nominee in the Kansas Senate race has just dropped out of the race. So why is that potentially bad news for…Republicans? Because there’s an Independent candidate named Greg Orman who has plenty of money, a moderate agenda, and even more endorsements. This race just got interesting, folks.

Kansas politics are a mess for the GOP right now. The state is heavily red, but Sam Brownback is highly unpopular. He may still be able to pull out a victory this fall if disgruntled Republicans come home to him and just can’t force themselves to pick a Democrat, no matter how moderate. After all, few governors have been more unpopular than Pat Quinn in Illinois, yet he has been able to survive in that state because he has a (D) next to his name. Thus, whether it’s Senate or Governor, non-GOP candidates still have a tough climb. Yet, moderate Paul Davis(D) has so far proven to be a very strong candidate with a slight edge in the Governor’s race. All of that is the backdrop for why Kansans are frustrated, which gets us to the Senate race…

While Sam Brownback is unpopular because of his governing agenda, as well as relationship with GOP folks around Topeka, Pat Roberts has a different problem. He is not a Kansan anymore, at least from the point of view of many Kansans. A few months back, the NYT reported what had long been known: that Pat Roberts is a creature of Washington, to the point of no longer even having a residence in the state. The paper found that Roberts’s listed address was that of some campaign contributors. The result? Not good for Roberts. It has epitomized him as that aforementioned creature of Washington, something that is loathed something extra special this year in particular. The nation is frankly tired of both parties. Enter Greg Orman.

While many polls showed Democrat Chad Taylor just a few points back, I had no indication that he was actually in a position to win the race, especially with a viable Indpt. running. Now that Taylor is out, it comes down to an unpopular GOP Senator and a well financed Indpt. moderate alternative. Of extra note? Kansas is not the most expensive state to run in, making a non-major party victory all the more possible. Throw in a local and national media that would LOVE the story line of a Washington insider getting booted by an Indpt. candidate, and you’ve got the makings of trouble for Roberts. A PPP poll about two weeks ago showed that, in a head to head, Roberts would be down 10 points to Orman. I am sure Taylor and his influential backers have been looking at these numbers for the last few weeks themselves. His campaign surely realized that his own chances of winning were close to none, but some wealthy folks, some party insiders, and others suggested he make way for the Independent in the race.

With all of this, we’ll have to see more data from the state, now that it’s one on one. But, for now, I’m moving this race from “Likely GOP” to a “Toss-Up.” We now have our most interesting race of 2014.

Arkansas Senate Moves Back to Toss-Up

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Mark Pryor(D) is keeping things alive in the Arkansas Senate race. I tweeted a few days ago that, to hold the Senate, Democrats would need to hold Alaska, Colorado, and Iowa, then pick up North Carolina, or somehow scoop up Louisiana or maybe even Arkansas. Well, Iowa seems to be getting trickier by the day, but Arkansas has been clawing back over the last few weeks to become a stronger hold potential for Democrats.

At the start of the month, Cotton(R) seemed to be narrowly on his way to picking up the seat as the race had slowly moved his way throughout the summer. All signs pointed toward a 4-5% lead in his favor. Then, August happened. Mark Pryor(D) has been spending heavily this past month, and he’s climbed his way back up into a Toss-Up position. Now, the overall dynamics of the race still narrowly favor Cotton, and most of the recent movement has so far shown a Pryor climb as opposed to a Cotton fall. The importance of that is that Cotton is still sitting at 49.3% in the model, awfully close to that 50% mark. Additionally, that’s the exact same data point for him as the last model. What’s changed is that Pryor has climbed from data points in the mid-40s back up to 47.9% today. The indications are that some Arkansas residents who may be quite sour on the Democratic party are still okay with Mark Pryor, a Democrat with strong Arkansas ties and a sturdy local brand. The question in the remaining two months of the race is whether there are enough of them out there for him to hold onto, at what the moment, would be a squeaker of a victory, if he were somehow to pull it off by scooping up a very narrow pool of remaining voters. Still, Pryor’s been making gains for the last several weeks, and as I always say, the trends are what often matter. Cotton’s 4-5% margins shifted to a 2.7% margin about ten days ago. Today, they’re down to a 1.3% margin. So far then, Pryor’s still on the climb and has yet to plateau on his current upward trend in the model. Hence, this race officially moves back to being a Toss-Up. A recent data point from Rasmussen today showed Pryor up, 44-43%. Rasmussen had Cotton up 4% a few months ago, showing consistent movement for Pryor as of late.

The question now becomes: will the trend continue? Will Pryor actually be able to recapture a lead in the model, something he hasn’t been able to do since spring?

Arkansas Senate Rating: Moves from “Leans GOP” to “Toss-Up”

Arkansas Senate Model: Cotton(R) 49.3% – Pryor(D) 47.9%