By Jim Ellis
Oct. 25, 2015 — Entering the final two weeks of campaigning, the Senate majority is still in limbo even though Hillary Clinton is breaking away in the presidential campaign.
Republicans hope to hold the Senate largely by relying on taking a majority of independent voters and banking on a significant group of ticket-splitters. Though partisanship has been at all-time high levels among self-identified voters of both parties, the Republicans believe this year is different because Clinton, despite building what appears to be an unstoppable majority in the presidential campaign, may have very short coattails.
The fact that her overall favorability numbers are still upside-down creates the highly unusual situation of people voting for someone who they ostensibly don’t like. Therefore, it is unlikely a Democratic wave election will occur around someone whose negatives exceed her positives. Thus, the argument to balance the presidential outcome by voting Republican for the Senate and House may be a salient one.
This latter position appears justified when looking at the latest polling. Though Donald Trump is dropping in the national popular vote and within key states such as Florida, North Carolina, and Nevada, GOP Senate candidates seem to be moving upward.
While Trump is slipping, Republican Senate candidates in six states: Arizona, Indiana, Iowa, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin simultaneously went up. The Indiana and Wisconsin numbers have both returned to a Democratic trend, but the remaining four appear to be holding. Arizona and Iowa appear to be clinched, since the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and their outside allies have either canceled media buys for the two states or have pulled out entirely.
Both Sens. Richard Burr (R-NC) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) are developing positive trends despite a difficult internal political climate facing each of them.
Since Oct. 10, six polls from a half-dozen individual pollsters have been conducted in the Tar Heel State. Five of the six find Burr with a lead, from one to eight percentage points. The one poll not posting the senator to an advantage, NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist College (Oct. 10-12; 743 likely North Carlolina voters), forecast a 46-46 percent tie between the two-term incumbent and former state Rep. Deborah Ross (D).
In the Keystone State, the last two polls, from Quinnipiac University (Oct. 10-16; 660 likely Pennsylvania voters) and the Emerson College Polling Society (Oct. 17-19; 800 likely Pennsylvania voters) both find Sen. Toomey holding a 3-4 point advantage over former gubernatorial chief of staff Katie McGinty (D). The three previous polls, taken during the Oct. 5-11 period, projected a tie (CBS News/YouGov), McGinty leading by two (Bloomberg Politics), and Toomey up four points (Susquehanna Polling & Research).
Two states moving away from the Republicans are Missouri and New Hampshire. Few polls have been conducted in the Show Me State race between Sen. Roy Blunt (R) and Secretary of State Jason Kander (D), but the latest ones yield Democratic improvement and project the two locked in a dead heat.
The New Hampshire race between political heavyweights Kelly Ayotte, the first term senator, and Maggie Hassan, the two-term governor, has been a virtual tie for more than a year. Polling still reveals a continuing impasse, but Hassan may have an inherent edge because the state has been voting in sweeping swing patterns for the past decade and Clinton appears solid at the top of the Democratic ticket.
The Nevada race is producing conflicting data, suggesting a Catherine Cortez Masto (D) lead, a Rep. Joe Heck (R-Henderson) edge, and a flat tie. Here, too, Clinton appears to have the momentum, and her carrying the state could provide Masto the edge she needs to claim a close victory.
That being said, we are on track for either a 50-50 tie or a 51-49 Democratic majority. At least one state now trending Democratic in terms of voter turnout and early voting participation (where applicable): Nevada, New Hampshire, or Missouri, will have to swing back to the GOP for them to even salvage the 50-50 tie. A late Republican shift could certainly help the GOP in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, the two key Senate states that do not feature early voting. Therefore, we are assured that the Toomey-McGinty and Ayotte-Hassan campaigns will go down to the Election Day wire.