By Jim Ellis
Nov. 8, 2016 — A late surge in two races adds even more drama to the already tight array of US Senate contests.
Weekend polling suggests that a pair of campaigns, which for months looked to be headed toward the Democratic column, have now potentially moved into toss-up situations.
Three polls were just released for the Indiana Senate race, where former senator and governor Evan Bayh (D) is attempting a comeback after retiring in 2010. Bayh has enjoyed a consistent lead over Rep. Todd Young (R-Bloomington) in the open seat race to succeed retiring Sen. Dan Coats (R) since joining the campaign in mid-July. Originally, Bayh began the contest with a 21-point lead. As late as Oct. 13, the Monmouth University poll still posted him to a six-point lead.
Now, we see a trio of surveys all coming to different conclusions. The latest Monmouth survey (Oct. 27-30; 402 likely Indiana voters) finds the two candidates tied at 45 percent apiece. On the heels of this poll, Gravis Marketing (Oct. 30-Nov. 1; 399 registered Indiana voters) sees Sen. Bayh re-claiming the lead, 40-37 percent. But, the most current survey, the Howey Politics poll (for WTHR television; released Nov. 4; 600 likely Indiana voters), actually finds Rep. Young catapulting to a five-point advantage, 46-41 percent. If this trend is accurate, and continues, the concluding result could be a mild shocker.
The Loras College Wisconsin poll (Oct. 31-Nov. 1; 500 likely Wisconsin voters) confirmed what the Marquette University Law School survey (Oct. 26-31; 1,225 likely Wisconsin voters) told us at the end of last week, that is, the race is clearly tightening.
All year, former Sen. Russ Feingold (D) has held a consistent polling lead over first-term Sen. Ron Johnson (R) of between five and 12 points, with few exceptions. While evident that Johnson was making a comeback, the two polls confirm that the contest is approaching toss-up status. Marquette found Feingold’s lead to be only 45-44 percent, while Loras saw a similar 47-45 percent polling result.
As in the presidential race, it is probable that the final Republican surge is too little, too late, however, and Feingold still wins tonight.
New weekend data is also available in the Pennsylvania Senate campaign, and this one is just as confusing as the Indiana contest. Though Democratic challenger Katie McGinty has been ahead in polling more often than Sen. Pat Toomey (R) of late, the closing surveys project a pure toss-up, since all results are within the margin of polling error. And, with no early voting program in Pennsylvania, this race will fully use all the remaining available campaign time.
Over the weekend, we saw two surveys being released, a small sample Allentown Morning Call newspaper survey (Oct. 3-Nov. 4; 405 likely Pennsylvania voters that found Sen. Toomey holding the slightest of leads at 43-42 percent, and a Harper Polling study (Nov. 2-3; 504 likely Pennsylvania voters) forecasting a flat 44-44 percent tie. These were on the heels of a Gravis Marketing study (Nov. 1-2; 1,016 registered Pennsylvania voters via interactive voice response system) that gave McGinty a slight 45-43 percent edge. All three of these late polls are indicating that either candidate can still win.
Though we saw no weekend poll releases in the tight Missouri, New Hampshire and North Carolina campaigns, those races are still very much undecided, as is the open Nevada contest.
The cumulative outcome of these aforementioned campaigns, including the later Indiana and Wisconsin entries, will determine Senate control. Further competition does increase overall Republican chances, simply because it appeared both Indiana and Wisconsin were headed toward the Democratic column. The Dems, however, remain slight favorites to at least claim a 50-50 split irrespective of the latest developments.