By Jim Ellis
Dec. 22, 2017 — If the Democrats are going to make a concerted run at the Senate majority, they must protect all 10, and possibly 11, of their vulnerable states, and then convert both the Arizona and Nevada Republican seats. Or, they must score at least one major upset in what should be a safe Republican domain if they don’t succeed in achieving all of the aforementioned.
Alabama Senator-Elect Doug Jones’ (D) victory earlier this month makes attaining a Democratic majority mathematically possible even though the party must now defend 26 of 34 in-cycle seats next year when adding the new Minnesota special election to the calendar.
Wednesday, two polls were reported in 2018 southern Republican states: Tennessee and Mississippi.
The Democrats’ chances in the Volunteer State, though still in the long-shot sphere, have improved since former Gov. Phil Bredesen agreed to run for the Senate.
WPA Intelligence, polling for the Super PAC, Defend the President, a group supporting Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) in her battle for the open Senate seat (Dec. 13,14,17; 500 likely Tennessee general election voters) found the congresswoman leading former Gov. Bredesen by a healthy 43-34 percent margin. If ex-Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Crockett County) were the Republican nominee, however, the race flips. Here, Bredesen would hold a 42-30 percent advantage.
These numbers differ with a poll conducted in October. In a Garin Hart Yang Research survey (Oct. 20-22; 601 likely Tennessee voters) conducted for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), it was Bredesen who jumped out to an early advantage over Rep. Blackburn, 46-41 percent. So, obviously, we are seeing a significant discrepancy between the first set of published polls.
Clearly recent Tennessee voting history will favor the eventual Republican nominee, but ex-Gov. Bredesen is the best possible candidate the Democrats could field.
In Mississippi, the Democrats’ hope centers around whether incumbent Roger Wicker faces a serious Republican primary challenge. State Sen. Chris McDaniel (R-Ellisville), who came within half a percentage point of upending Sen. Thad Cochran in the 2014 Republican primary, is considering running again. He now says January will be the month when he makes a final decision. He is also publicly considering a race for lieutenant governor in 2019, a position that will be open in that statewide election year.
Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy just completed a statewide survey (Dec. 13-15; 625 registered Mississippi voters; 400 Misissippi Republican primary voters), testing Sen. Wicker as he prepares to seek a third term. Likely his big test will be the Republican primary. Democrats need to see Wicker heavily challenged for this party nomination in hopes that a divided GOP will split to the point of allowing the eventual Democratic standard bearer to slip through. The new M-D poll doesn’t provide the Dems much encouragement.
According to the data, Sen. Wicker records a 47:33 percent positive to negative ratio before the electorate as a whole. This rating is slightly below Sen. Cochran’s 54:32 percent, and within the same realm as President Trump’s 51:43 percent favorable to unfavorable score. Perhaps the best news for Sen. Wicker in this poll is his standing among Republicans. Within this segment, the senator’s approval rating is 70:16 percent.
Against state Sen. McDaniel in a hypothetical Republican primary pairing, Wicker tops his would-be challenger, 49-33 percent. This is a relatively solid showing for the incumbent, when remembering that McDaniel came within just 1,719 votes of denying Sen. Cochran re-nomination in the original 2014 primary. Sen. Cochran would then rebound to notch a 51-49 percent run-off victory, which was tantamount to winning re-election.
Should McDaniel bypass a race with Sen. Wicker, this contest will likely come off the competitive board and allow the GOP to put the seat to bed for the general election. At least according to this most recent data, Sen. Wicker is a clear favorite for re-nomination and re-election next year.