Polls Make Calling 2014 A Wave Impossible

Former 2 term Senator and current AG Mike Dewine (OH) was one of several Republicans swept out of office by the pro-Democratic mood in 2006.
Former 2 term Senator and current AG Mike Dewine (OH) was one of several Republicans swept out of office by the pro-Democratic mood in 2006.

I am forced to wonder whether my certainty that 2014 will constitute a wave election is founded ore on firm statistical evidence or a gut instinct.  The number of polls out there certainly do not help. Nor do their results.  For example polls in New Hampshire in the last month have shown Senator Jeanne Shaheen ahead by as much as 11%.  Others have shown the race tied.

But despite my concerns I am buoyed by new evidence of late suggesting many races are breaking towards the fundamentals.  First, the generic ballot and several polled House races (admittedly with small samples) are breaking the GOP’s way.  The generic ballot has especially moved towards the GOP from a RCP average of 1.4% Dem to 4% GOP (5.4% move to the GOP).  Second, Senate polls are also moving towards the GOP in all but a few states.

Sean Trende at RCP has an excellent compilation of polling averages looking at competitive races (sorry, OR and VA are not included).  As Trende says, “Of the 11 races that RCP tracks, seven have moved toward Republicans.  The average movement is 1.2 points, with a median of 0.8 points.  This isn’t as pronounced a shift as we’ve seen in the congressional races, but it is real.”

A note needs to be added on the four races where Democrats have improved their standing; Michigan, North Carolina, Iowa and Georgia.  Short of Georgia, Democrats are outspending their opponents and have smoothed out their campaign operations.  For Bruce Braley in Iowa this was a must or he likely would be well behind.  The spending disparity is greatest in North Carolina where Kay Hagan is using state issues to hammer Speaker of the House Thom Tillis on education funding and ethics.  This lack of funding has damaged Tillis’s campaign, perhaps irreparably.

But, here is the important part.  In all four of the races where Democrats have improved their polling averages it is not because they have gained support (minus a few polling outliers) but rather their GOP challengers numbers have dropped.  As Trende points out on North Carolina, “Thom Tillis has seen his numbers plummet in the wake of an advertising blitz, from receiving 45 percent of the vote in mid-August to receiving 40.6 percent today.”

Now, to depart from quoting Trende this does not bode well for Democrats for a very important reason as illustrated by a recent piece from Dan McLaughlin at RedState.  He looked at all Senate races from 2002-onward starting from mid-September to the actual result.  What McLaughlin found was a significant amount of uncertainty.  This uncertainty might have been caused by including safe races but digging deeper one comes to some obvious conclusions.

First, depending on the year a majority of key races reverted to the fundamentals.  In other words in 2002, 2004, and 2010 a significant number of close Senate contests moved strongly towards the GOP.  In 2006, 2008 and 2012 close races moved towards the Democrats.

Second, you can add something to this analysis; presidential approval.  In 2002 and 2004 the GOP did best in states where President Bush was fairly popular.  They did best in states where Obama was underwater in 2010.  Likewise, Democrats did best in states where Bush was weak in 06 and 08 and in states Obama was popular in (2012). Even taking safe seats out of the equation shows the connection.  Put simply, since 2002 Democratic and Republican Senate candidates election numbers have tended to converge on Presidential approval/disapproval numbers.

For examples I return to Trende, “In 2006, however, Republican vote shares hardly improved from their September showing. Tom Kean was leading Bob Menendez, 45 percent to 41 percent; he received 44.3 percent of the vote. Mike DeWine trailed Sherrod Brown, 47.7 percent to 44 percent; he received 43.8 percent of the vote. George Allen led Jim Webb, 48 percent to 43.3 percent of the vote; he received 49.2 percent of the vote.  The president’s job approval in New Jersey, Ohio and Virginia (respectively): 35 percent, 41 percent, and 45 percent.” The same phenomenon hurt Republicans in 2008.

Now, I have never fully subscribed to this theory.  There are always examples counter to this available to note.  But, just as North Carolina exemplifies these examples are usually driven far more by individual state dynamics.  Yet, if one looks at a couple of races where Democrats have improved their standing even I must admit the above theory seems to be holding water.

Let’s look at Michigan and Minnesota.  As noted above, Democrats have improved their standing in their states but they have done so by only weakening their GOP opponent.  Consider that Peters (MI) has seen his lead increase but his actual polling average drop from 45.3% to 44.3%.  His opponent, Land has dropped more from 41.4% to 38.9%.  In Minnesota, Al Franken has dropped from 52% to 49.8% while his opponent, Mike McFadden, has dropped from 41.7% to 40.3%.  Further, the Democrats numbers in these states correlate with current Presidential approval (within 1%-5%).

So, if this theory holds water we should expect two things to happen by November.  First, as Republicans start unleashing their Committee war chests to even the ad disparity we should expect uneven polling to continue.  But second, and more importantly, we should soon expect to see undecided voters start to move towards the GOP in some fashion.  In states where the President is incredibly weak (LA, AR, KY, GA, etc.) we should expect to see pronounced movement towards the GOP.  In states where the President is underwater but not sub 40 approval ratings (MN, MI, IA, NH, CO) we should expect to see some sort of movement towards the GOP.

However, North Carolina illustrates how candidate qualities and state specific issues can impact this theory.  In this vein one should not be surprised to see Democrats run ahead of the President in virtually every state as even some voters who disapprove of the President (be they Dems or Independents) will vote for the Democratic candidate.  As this is assured to happen the inevitable and most critical question will be by what margin can Democrats outrun the President’s disapproval?

Note: In both Oregon and Virginia the President is underwater but Senators Mark Warner (VA) and Jeff Merkeley (OR) are crushing their opponents.  However, even their polling averages give the above theory and analysis credence.

Virginia: In Virginia Warner has dropped from 52%-50% since September and his opponent has jumped from 33%-35%.  This can largely be attributed to a new Quinnipiac poll showing Warner in a closer race than other pollsters.  Warner has incredible approval ratings for a Congressional member likely allowing him to run well ahead of the President.

Oregon: In Oregon Merkley had 52.3% of the average vote at the beginning of September but he has dropped to 50.3%.  His opponent, Monica Wehby, has gone from 36.7% to 35.7%.  Merkeley is popular in the state with approval ratings over 50% allowing him to run ahead of the President’s mid 40 approval ratings.
Addendum: A slate of new polls in Iowa, Colorado and Louisiana seem to be indicating, if only anecdotal, the Senate battleground map, is tilting towards the GOP.






New York a Showcase in Democratic Division

Zephyr and Wu.
Zephyr and Wu.

Andrew Cuomo, heir to a political dynasty and Governor of New York, was supposed to be a shoe-in for reelection and a possible 2016 Presidential contender if Clinton said no to a bid.  But since his overwhelming 2010 victory, Cuomo has struggled to look intimidating.

To be fair, Cuomo’s struggles are not necessarily his fault.  As many Republican leaders have learned in red states, one party dominance tends to lead to ideological schisms and intraparty battles in state parties.  But until now Democrats have reaped the benefits of such squabbles among the GOP.  Now, in NY state and elsewhere, Democrats are dealing with the same issue.

Democrats have had these fights before.  Executive Editor of LiberalOasis, Bill Scher, notes that in both Connecticut and Arkansas these instances have not been kind for the party.  In 2006, in Connecticut, Senator Joe Lieberman was challenged by anti-war candidate Ned Lamont.  Lamont ended up winning the primary 52%-48%.  But Lieberman ran as an Independent candidate and crushed Lamont 50%-40% (I rounded) in the general election.  Exit polls showed that a substantial minority of Democrats, 33%, voted for Lieberman, as did a majority of moderates, 55%, and Independents, 54%.  Lieberman ultimately decided to caucus with the Democrats as an Independent but he irked the party faithful with his support of President Bush’s surge strategy and endorsing John McCain for President in 2008.  He also helped torpedo the Public Option in Obamacare in 2009.

Arkansas Democrats faced a similar dynamic in 2010.  Senator Blanche Lincoln, reviled by conservatives for supporting Obamacare and loathed by progressives for killing the public option, barely won her party’s primary against progressive favorite Bill Halter.  So damaged was she from the primary that she lost to a GOP Congressman by a whopping 58%-37%.

Both Lamont and Halter represented the grassroots element of the Democratic Party that increasingly sees its leaders as pro-corporatism.  But, both Arkansas and Connecticut illustrate that not all Democrats are comfortable with the grassroots mindset.  However, like a sizable minority of Republicans, these partisans tend to not come out and vote in primaries.

In regards to New Y0rk, Cuomo won the primary with 62.2% of the vote.  His running mate, former Congresswomen Kathy Hochul won with 59.1%.  Both of these numbers are underwhelming considering Cuomo and Hochul outspent their opponents by over 20-1.  Further, Cuomo was not exactly a conservative.  Since he has been in office he has raised taxes on the wealthy, pushed through gay marriage legislation, implemented new gun control policies and made New York’s laws regarding abortion argueably the most liberal in the nation.  Still, it is not enough for the party’s base.

The party base has their reasons for griping.  Cuomo has opposed raising taxes to pay for pre-K education (even as he supports its implementation), selected a conservative Democrat for a running mate (Hochul) and been unresponsive to calls for more stringent regulation of Wal Street.

According to some Democrats, like Cuomo/Hochul’s opponents Zephyr/Wu, the answer lies in primary challenges to establishment Democrats.  That has worked out so well for the GOP recently and Democrats in the past why not try it (sarcasm)?  Pragmatic Democrats know this is a bad route to go.  It risks alienating the moderate, suburban voters Democrats have won in recent cycles nationwide.  It also risks creating economic and investment uncertainty amid the business community.  Indeed, Cuomo and Democrats like Jerry Brown in California have not enacted sweeping progressive economic agendas because they know it would stifle their state’s economies.

This does not matter to ideologues like Wu and Zephyr.  They see the advantage their party has now as fleeting and want to enact the progressive utopian vision of higher taxes on the wealthy, more regulation, no charter schools or vouchers, on everybody.  If this vision ever becomes widespread enough in the party to dominate it would mean the GOP and Democrats would be even further apart.  But, ending on a positive note, it could mean a few compromising Republicans and Democrats could get support from the public to end the gridlock and solve state and national problems.  Don’t expect Zephyr and Wu to be those kind of Democrats.




Idaho Democrats and Hawaiian Republicans are Proof Hope Springs Eternal

Hawaiian GOP Gubernatorial nominee represents the party's best hope for victory in 2014.
Hawaiian GOP Gubernatorial nominee represents the party’s best hope for victory in 2014.

Hawaii and Idaho share many characteristics.  They are both strongly partisan states.  Hawaii has one of the most Democratic legislatures in the country and Idaho has one of the most Republican.  They both have two of the strongest partisan registration advantages for their respective dominating parties.  Hawaii has an entirely Democratic federal delegation and Idaho has an entirely Republican one.  But it is the minority parties that both share something in common.  Hope!

In both states the minority parties are hoping to celebrate a surprise victory or two in November.  Hawaii Republicans hope a third-party candidate siphons off enough votes for them to steal the Governorship for the third time in four elections.  In Idaho, Democrats claim A.J. Balukoff’s moderate credentials are enough to knock off two term Governor Butch Otter.  However, both are a stretch.  It is a credit to both minority parties determination they even think they have a chance.  So what are the chances of either happening?  Let’s look and see.

Hawaii has not voted Republican for President since 1972 and until 2002 had not elected a GOP Governor since 1959.  Linda Lingle, former chair of the state GOP, had run an extremely close race in 1998 against an incumbent Governor and scored an upset victory in 2002.  Amid a toxic environment for her party in 2006 she easily was reelected.  But fast forward to 2012 and the partisan affiliation of the state stood firm as it rejected her for US Senate.  Idaho, by contrast, last elected a Democratic Governor in 1994 but unlike Hawaii has not put a minority party candidate in office since.  Oh, and Idaho has not voted Democratic for President since 1968.

While both states have strongly partisan roots and affiliations, even more so at the federal level, both have dallied with minority party Congressmen.  In 2008, Democrat Walt Minnick beat unpopular Bill Sali by less than 2% for the 1st Congressional District.  Minnick was subsequently defeated in 2010 by over 10%.  Republicans scored an upset victory in a 2010 special election for the Hawaiian 1st CD with Charles Djou.  Notably, Djou notched only 39.4% of the vote in the special election and lost in his bid for reelection in 2010.  However, if a new poll is to be believed out of HI-1, Djou leads the race.  It took extraordinary circumstances for both of these Congressman to be elected and despite their conservative and liberal voting records their partisan labels were just too much to overcome in the next cycle.

This does not bold well for Republican Cam Cavasso in Hawaii, running against Lt. Governor Brian Schatz for US Senate.  Likewise, lawyer Nels Mitchell in Idaho is a longshot against Republican Jim Risch. At the Congressional level, in Hawaii Djou announced he was running again in 2014.  At least he is a known commodity.  In Idaho, Democrats have a state representative, Shirley Ringo, running against Raul Labrador (ID-1) and former Congressman Richard Stallings against Mike Simpson (ID-2).  Either would be lucky to notch 40% of the vote in their contests.

As referenced above both parties are more buoyant about their gubernatorial chances.  Hawaii Republicans are optimistic about 2010 gubernatorial nominee and former Lingle Lt. Governor Duke Aiona.  Aiona has name ID and a robust campaign apparatus.  But their real reason for being so excited is because the Democratic vote is likely to be split between Democratic nominee David Ige (who crushed Governor Mike Ambercrombie in the party’s primary) and Honolulu mayor Mufi Hanneman who is running as an Independent.  Hanneman is running to Ige’s left and forcing the Democrat to move further left while Aiona has so far had the luxury of locking in the state’s conservative base and wooing moderates.

Idaho Democrats are not as lucky as the Hawaiian GOP.  But they do have one factor going for them.  The Idaho GOP is a split party that has been damaged due to ideological differences.  Otter hails from the more moderate conservative wing of the party and has struggled to pull in full GOP support.  While Otter favors more traditional GOP positions, other members of the party favor a more independent, aggressive approach to dealing with federal regulations and lands.  So far in the campaign the debate between Otter and Balukoff has come down to funding over education and cronyism.  However, while polls have shown Aiona with a chance in Hawaii, the few polls out of Idaho show Balukoff well behind Otter and the Governor hitting or exceeding the magic 50% mark.

Still, both Idaho Democrats and Hawaiian Republicans represent proof that even minority parties cling to hope.  However, it is far more likely that after November 4th Hawaii Republicans will be celebrating a bigger victory than Idaho Democrats.

Off to War We March, or Maybe Not

ISIL fighters marching through a town in Northern Iraq.
ISIL fighters marching through a town in Northern Iraq.

Congress took a courageous, or not, vote on authorizing the President to strike the terror group known as ISIL with air strikes as well as arm and train “vetted,” “moderate” Syrian rebels to fight the group.  Then, as soon as the vote was complete with a complex coalition of Republicans and Democrats for and against, Congress hightailed it out of DC last week.  With an election less than two months out both Democrats and Republicans got what they wanted out of the vote. Republicans kept the government-funded and Democrats gave their President the authority to assert a muscular foreign policy.

The vote by Congress marks a back and forth saga with engaging ISIL that began more than three years ago when the intelligence community came before the President and warned him about the group.  The White House, focused like a laser on the President’s reelection, didn’t care.  However, they did start to notice when the group began filling a power vacuum in both Iraq and Syria.  In Syria, the years long civil war against Bashar Assad had allowed the group to form.  In Iraq, without a recognized government and a pathetically weak army, ISIL marched almost to Baghdad.  If not for the Kurds and US airstrikes, Baghdad might be under their control.

Against this foreign policy backdrop Congress acted.  However, many of the supporters of the authorization made clear they were not happy about doing so.  Many members felt they had been backed into a corner on the issue.  Many who voted no felt the same.  Considering the White House ignored multiple warnings about the group their concerns are probably justified.  But blame deserves to go the American public as well for the situation.  This is hardly a new theme.

Both the US public and politicians have hardly been rational in their foreign policy decisions.  Indeed, post-WWII American foreign policy is filled with issues.  In the 50’s, to thwart the Soviet Union we backed a pro-Western unpopular Shah in Iran.  He was overthrown in 1979 sparking the Iranian Hostage Crisis.  The 60’s were characterized by the disaster that is known as the Vietnam War.  Let’s not forget Chile and allowing a barbaric pro-Western government to murder thousands (but hey, it was pro-western).  The 70’s created the foundation of the modern-day Al Qaeda by funding rebels in Afghanistan against a Soviet takeover.  The 80’s saw the Iranian/Iraq War, we sided with Iraq and the Lebanon marine bombing.  The fall of the USSR was supposed to symbolize a world at peace but all it meant was war was to become asymmetrical.  Indeed, the Gulf War is arguably the last modern state vs. states war.

The American public is understandably tired of war.  Trillions have been sunk into Iraq and Afghanistan and combating terrorism.  Terrorism is still alive and well and we are now heading back into Iraq.  Afghanistan is still fighting Al Qaeda and Taliban remains.  But the public has also been unreasonably unrealistic in their demands of the President and Congress on how to deal with ISIL.  Public opinion surveys show a majority of Americans do not want boots to hit the ground in Iraq, a majority supports airstrikes, yet they also want ISIL defeated.  Memo to America; you cannot do that unless you use overwhelming force and air strikes only provide so much force.

The American public’s obfuscation on foreign policy has/had an impact on our electoral politics.  In the 50’s and 60’s Republicans and Democrats were viewed as equally trustworthy on foreign policy.  But starting in the 70’s and continuing through today the stereotype Democrats are weak on foreign policy took hold while Republicans are the ones who are rational and strong.  Bush’s handling of foreign policy drove down GOP numbers on the issue but Obama’s handling of the issue has rescued the GOP.

Ironically. as the Democratic Party’s base has become even more doveish on foreign policy many Democrats have become more hawkish.  Republicans, less trusting of acting on the world stage after being burned by Bush, are starting to see a resurgence in foreign policy activism amid their ranks.  Still, this hardly characterized both the Senate and House votes.  More Republicans than Democrats in the House voted for authorization but of the 22 no votes in the Senate only five came from Senate Democrats.

Critics have different reasons for opposing the move.  The more hawkish wing of the GOP opposes the action because it is not strong enough (boots on the ground crowd).  Both Republicans and Democrats dislike the move because it is not seen as feasible.  How do you vet Syrian rebel groups in a short timeframe?  Ditto with training.  However, all sides agree and worry the move could bring us that much closer to an all out war to eliminate ISIL in the region.

The President has worked to bring multiple coalition members on board.  France dropped its first bombs on Friday.  The UK is likely to participate in the air campaign as well.  More importantly for the legitimacy of the move in the region, Saudi Arabia has agreed to allow Syrian groups to train in their territory.  So far America has walked a tightrope on the effort.  We want to eliminate ISIL without putting boots on the ground, we want Arab allies to legitimize the effort and we do not want to face blow-back from another foreign policy decision gone bad.   It seems likely though sooner or later we are going to fall off that tightrope and have to deal with the consequences.


Addendum: US bombers kicked off their air campaign yesterday with dozens of strikes against ISIS targets in Northern Iraq and Eastern Syria Monday.

The UK Remains United but Still Divided

Alex Salmond was dealt a major blow with the defeat of the "Yes" campaign on Thursday.
Alex Salmond was dealt a major blow with the defeat of the “Yes” campaign on Thursday.

Thursday, Scotland took a historic step forward, or backward, if you prefer to look at it from another perspective.  Scotland, by a 55%-45% margin according to complete returns, voted to stay in the UK.  The vote, driven by a multitude of factors, led to the Cameron government (conservative party) breathing a sigh of relief as they are already embattled heading into the 2015 elections.

A number of questions need to be answered about why Scotland even took this step?  What drove them to this vote?  The answer lies in the fact that even though the UK is united by boundaries but not culture.  Ever since Scotland became part of the UK in the 1700’s the two cultures have remained very much apart.  British society tends to look down 0n the working class Scots and in turn the Scots resent this viewpoint.  While British individuals dominate the Civil Service the Scots dominate the defense and intelligence apparatus of the UK (so much for working class).

Move beyond culture and there are also distinct political and economic differences.  Indeed, economic uncertainty is probably the only reason why Scotland decided to stay with the UK.  The UK does subsidize Scotland.  Scotland receives more tax dollars back than it sends to London.  But that view must be tempered with the fact that Scotland also is a hub for medical and energy research (North Sea Oil).  his is a boon to the UK economy.  Other economic uncertainties included whether Scotland would inherit some of the UK debt (which they have contributed to) and whether they could keep the pound or not?  These questions were largely ignored by the Yes campaign to their detriment.

According to polls taken right before the vote the elderly favored staying with the UK while the younger tended to prefer independence.  Among the old it was reported by the Guardian that there was a “This is the way it has always been,” sentiment.  Women also favored the vote.  These are not necessarily demographic factors but also political.

Scotland has a strong, traditional Labor constituency that has never really been threatened by the Conservative party or even nationalistic parties.  This is evidenced by two events.  When Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister and the Conservative Party was dominating UK politics the party never held a single seat in the region.  Second, when the dust had settled from the 2010 elections and Conservatives held a plurality of seats overall, they held a single seat in the region compared to 41 for Labour and 11 for the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party).  Heck, even the Scottish National Party held more seats than the Conservative Party after 2010.

This seems contrary to what many people think about Scotland, full of rogue, independent minded people. Scotland has a more robust social welfare state than Britain.  While Britain has one government worker per six private sector employees, Scotland’s ratio is one in five.  Scotland also has more debt per citizen.

Recently, Scotland has chaffed under the economically conservative policies of the Cameron government.  This partly explains why the LDP, coalition partners with the Cameron government, are likely to be crushed in the region next year (Conservatives can’t go down much more).  It also explains why Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond brought the independence movement up for a vote.  With a populace unhappy with the Cameron government’s frugal spending ways it seemed the perfect time for a political gambit.

The Cameron government has been beleaguered by scandal, a weak economy and worries over immigration and security.  Cameron campaigned heavily against even holding a vote and then against the Yes campaign.  It made sense politically and security wise.  Scotland has encased in its mountain bunkers the UK’s entire nuclear arsenal as well as other strategic radar and defense facilities.

Ultimately, Scotland probably made the safer choice by sticking with the UK Thursday.  But Scotland could easily survive as an independent nation.  On top of its North Sea oil reserves it has a thriving tech and medical sector.  But economic and political uncertainty would have made the transition to independence anything but smooth.

Scotland’s No vote probably garners it what even the Yes campaign wanted as a conciliation prize, more governing powers.  Former Labor leader Tony Blair is credited with cementing a new generation of Scottish voters loyalty to Labour with his devolution of powers.  Initially designed to court the IRA into a permanent truce the move was seen as politically beneficial in Labour’s traditional stronghold and thus implemented nationwide.  This allowed Scotland to set up it own Parliament and supposedly have jurisdiction over health, housing and education policy.

In a last-minute bid to keep Scotland in the UK, all three major party elites (Labour, LDP, Conservative) promised to give even greater local powers to the Scottish government.  But as Matthew Yglesias has pointed out this promise has serious flaws.  For example, Scotland cannot borrow, has limited ability to raise taxes and cannot set its own budget.  The budget the Scottish Parliament doles out is set in London (thus every US state has more local power than Scotland).  It also should be noted that after the BBC announced Scotland had decided to stay in the UK the Cameron government changed its promise to “English only votes for English laws” while still devolving more power to Scotland.  Labor is opposed.

Where the future of the UK goes from here is unclear.  The country, much like here in the US, is being shook by demographic, political and economic forces their government seems unable to handle.  How Britain handles the near future balancing all these forces may be a model or a model of what not to do for other non-European/European nations facing the same dynamic.

Addendum: An independent Scottish state would also have likely doomed Labour to a permanent minority party for the near future.  The region’s 41 Labour held seats make up just under 16% of Labour’s entire House Commons seats (257).  Thus, the region is a bedrock of Labour party support.







Multiple Factors Driving Midterm Results

Bob Bupreauz, GOP candidate for Colorado Governor. is one of several Republicans who has strengthened in recent polls.

One would be forgiven if they have become confused by the plethora of polls released showing such diverse results.  On the one hand the generic ballot is now tilting decisively in the GOP’s favor as many analysts expected once it transitioned to the Likely Voter Model.  But individual Senate and Governor’s races have produced results showing the power of candidate characteristics and how state races can avoid being driven solely by national politics.

Consider several Governor’s races that have long been considered competitive or potentially competitive and cover different political regions; Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida and Arizona.  In Florida, Rick Scott was long assumed to be vulnerable.  Despite the recovering economy the Governor had terrible poll numbers.  His opponent, former GOP Governor turned Democrat, Charlie Crist, appeared to be a bipartisan bridge builder.  But if the newest polls are accurate Scott has used his massive cash advantage and the recovering economy to hammer Crist.

Wisconsin and Michigan were long assumed to be tough holds for the party.  Rick Snyder and Scott Walker have endured rough first terms after taking on unions to balance their state budgets.  Walker reformed CBA rights for school teachers and Snyder took the dramatic step of making Michigan the 24th Right to Work state.  Those same unions have come out in force for their opponents.  Wisconsin does not feature a Senate race this cycle but Walker’s struggles are a reminder of just how polarized the state is.  Michigan boasts a competitive Senate race which means Snyder needs to work even harder to win.  The GOP Senate nominee has struggled and trails but Snyder narrowly leads in his race suggesting he is managing to get crossover votes.

Arizona is an open seat race that pits a strong conservative against a moderate Democrat.  While Arizona is strongly Republican at the federal level it has seen a Democratic resurgence in local and states races. Few polls are out but those that are show a close race.  This explains why the RGA is planning to invest in the race.

The Senate, unlike Governor’s races, seems to be driven far more by perceptions of Congress, the President and the parties political brands.  While candidate qualities do matter it seems to be mattering less and less as polls show where the leanings of voters are going.

Consider several competitive states this cycle that illustrate this point; Arkansas, Louisiana, Colorado, Iowa, Georgia and Kentucky.  Arkansas and Louisiana are both strong GOP states at the Presidential level.  Bill Clinton was the last Democrat to carry either state (a place called Hope).  But they also have a history of electing two particular Democratic dynasties, Landrieus and Pryors.  Yet, both states electorates strongly disapprove of the President and it is finally showing as the GOP has two credible challengers running.  In Arkansas, Pryor has been unable to run well enough ahead of the President to lead in the polls.  Louisiana features a similar dynamic but Mary Landrieu has severely damaged her candidacy with campaign finance violations.

Both Arkansas and Louisiana illustrate just how much disapproval of the President is driving their votes.  The batch of states-Colorado, Iowa, Kentucky, and Georgia illustrate just how much candidate quality matters as well.  In the open seat Georgia race, businessman David Perdue has been able to eke out a lead over moderate Michelle Nunn because he has avoided gaffes and been able to keep the GOP advantage in suburban Atlanta.  It also helps the President is unpopular in the state.  In Kentucky, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has clawed out a fairly strong lead over Allison Grimes because of his playing up social issues and coal.  Grimes has certainly not been helped by the President and has been unable to win over voters with her bio.

Colorado and Iowa are unique in this regard as well.  Republicans, once pessimistic about Colorado, seem to be increasingly coming around to the possibility of an upset.  Congressman Corey Gardner has done a 180 on abortion and contraception and according to new polls it has worked to woo female voters.  The state Democrats have dominated in recent years through a combination of upscale and downscale female and Hispanic support is now teetering.  Gardner is ahead or essentially tied with Senator Udall.  In Iowa, little known state senator Joni Ernst has been competitive almost solely due to her personality.  The wave of attacks against her have dented her poll numbers but her responses have been well-timed and charismatic.

I left Alaska off the list simply because nobody really knows what is going on there.  Polling of the state has been historically inaccurate and both Senator Mark Begich and Tom Sullivan are damaged brands.  However, the recovering favorability of the GOP in a state that leans red and Begich’s ad fiasco might explain why the few polls of the race show Sullivan head.

North Carolina remains a unique case where a cascading sequence of events is driving the Senate race.  Senator Kay Hagan appears to be the only Democrat likely to hold a seat in the Deep South after 2014.  This is not because of her personality but rather the fact her opponent, state Speaker Thom Tillis, is a damaged candidate.  The state legislature is deeply unpopular and it appears to be driving his numbers.  Hagan has focused exclusively on his legislative record and Tillis has yet to counter.  The disapproval of the President and Obamacare certainly has to be hurting Hagan but Tillis has been unable to effectively attack her on it.  In this case, North Car0lina appears to be an exception from the norm; state issues are eclipsing all other factors in the race.

All in all, the latest slate of polls have provided good news for the GOP.  They lead or are tied in battleground Senate and Governor’s races and appear to have convinced some well-known analysts they are on the rise.  Whether this holds until November is unclear, after all, we are past Labor Day and the polls show mixed results.  Still, one thing is clear.  Unlike 2010, when the economy and Obamacare were paramount and overwhelmed money and candidate traits, multiple factors are driving voters ballots this November.


Roberts Could Still Win in Kansas with Less than 50%

Pat Roberts is in his toughest race yet against Independent Greg Orman.

As unlikely as it appeared at the start of the cycle Kansas is playing host to both a competitive gubernatorial and Senatorial election.  Republican Governor Sam Brownback is facing blowback after cutting education (and revenues) while Pat Roberts is suffering from incumbent fatigue and a divisive primary.

Roberts is now perhaps the most endangered GOP incumbent of the cycle.  Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has opened a clear lead in his race and no other incumbent Republican Senator faces a serious challenge.  By contrast, Roberts, has no edge in his contest.

According to a new poll conducted by Survey USA for KSN.com, Roberts and his Independent challenger Greg Orman are basically tied with Orman holding a statistically insignificant 37%-36% edge.  Most notable in the poll is not that Roberts trails but that he could still win with less than 50% of the vote.  Former Democratic nominee Chad Taylor, who dropped out of the race but has to have his name stay on the ballot according to the Secretary of State, is polling at 10%.

It was widely assumed that after Taylor dropped out Democratic support would consolidate around Orman.  This poll shows that assumption might have been a stretch.  Orman’s support in the poll comes from 52% of Democrats, 42% of Independents and 26% of Republicans.  Orman’s failure to consolidate the Democratic vote may come from the fact that among the voters who had planned to back Taylor merely 43% now support Orman, 30% still plan to back Taylor and Roberts gets 15% of their votes.  A full 71% of voters were aware Taylor had suspended his campaign and 58% knew his name had to stay on the ballot.

Orman is hardly getting overwhelming support from Democrats after Taylor dropped out and that opens up an opportunity for Roberts that seemed to drop away after Taylor’s exit.  Specifically, Roberts could still win with a mere plurality of the vote.  When Taylor was running Robert’s campaign hoped to win with around 40%-45% of the vote.  With Taylor’s name still on the ballot this remains a possibility.

National Republicans in recent weeks have grown increasingly concerned about Robert’s campaign.  He had not campaigned in the state since his primary and his campaign manager made a significant gaffe about Roberts spending time in DC (as opposed to Kansas).  In response, Republicans sent a well-known consultant, Chris LaCivita, and a legal adviser to Kansas to take over his campaign.  Robert’s former campaign manager was recently released.  Politico is reporting that multiple GOP senators are planning to barnstorm the state and fundraise for Roberts.

The GOP playbook against Orman is the same as it would be if both he and Taylor were in the race.  Tie Orman to Obama and do not let him get away with appearing as a moderate.  Robert’s has taken this advice to heart.  In the candidates first debate last Saturday Roberts took every opportunity to tie Orman to Obama.  He charged Orman (correctly) with supporting Obama in 2008 and warning Orman supporters (including 26% of Republicans, 42% of Independents and 19% of conservatives) that he would support Harry Reid’s liberal agenda in the Senate.  Orman, for his part, did little to convincingly fend off these attacks.

It remains to be seen whether Roberts can reunite the statewide GOP coalition of conservative Independents and Republicans.  Moderate Republicans have been turned off by Governor Brownback’s conservatism and Robert’s trek to the right during the primary.  They may see Orman as a viable protest candidate.  Independents seem largely drawn to Orman because of his business background and soft-spoken manner.  Robert’s attacks will likely prove fruitful however if they are not effectively answered..  Unfortunately for Orman’s camp, when they do answer they will have to be careful in how they do so as not to turn off Democratic support.

Already this has become a problem for Orman.  Orman has said he would not have voted for Obamcare but the idea of full repeal is unrealistic.  This middle ground might appeal to moderates but Orman needs some conservative and liberal support to win.  The kind of argument he is making seems destined to turn both ideological camps away from his ccampaign.

Ultimately, this poll suggests a number of Democrats will vote for Taylor regardless (see 2010 CO gubernatorial results for comparison) and if they do Roberts has a shot to escape with a victory by taking a mere plurality of the vote. Partisan loyalties run deep, even among Kansas Democrats desperate for wins this cycle.