As we pass Labor Day and enter into Election 2014 stretch drive mode, it appears that four US Senate races are polling within one point. In Arkansas, Iowa, Louisiana and North Carolina, a polling conglomeration over the last several weeks points to consistently dead-even contests.
Another race, in Alaska, could join this group, but their late primary (Aug. 19) has only yielded an official nominee for a short period. Once the polling crystallizes around Sen. Mark Begich (D) and former Attorney General and Natural Resources Department director Dan Sullivan (R) as the two official candidates, a more consistent close race will likely formulate. The recent polling history, virtually all of which was conducted before the state primary, has yielded inconsistent results.
Right now, it is clear that Republicans will gain seats in the US Senate, but will they score well enough on the conversion front to wrest a small majority away from the Democrats? Such is the major question that will be answered in the next two months.
If one considers that the GOP will likely hold its two vulnerable seats in Georgia (David Perdue (R) vs. Michelle Nunn (D)) and Kentucky (Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) vs. Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D)), and gain Democratic retirement seats in Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia, then half of the Republican goal of converting six Democratic seats has already been achieved.
Therefore, if we narrow the country into the four one-point races, while adding the aforementioned Alaska, and what has consistently been a two-point contest in Colorado (Sen. Mark Udall (D) vs. Rep. Cory Gardner (R)), Republicans then need to win just half of these campaigns to dethrone the Democrats, a reasonable number for a toss-up category.
Republicans enjoy the major benefit in seeing, right now, that all of the consistently dead-even races are in Democratic Party control and all of the endangered incumbents are well below 50 percent. The latter is a bad sign for any incumbent, but the Democrats neutralize this situation because there is little electoral enthusiasm for an agenda-less Republican Party. Thus, the two parties are running so closely together because the poor perception of each is generally a shared one.
In Arkansas, looking at the last five publicly released surveys during the period of late July through late August – two of which are partisan Democratic polls – we see Sen. Mark Pryor (D) holding leads of five, two, and one point. Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR-4) has the advantage in two surveys, both of which project him leading by a pair of percentage points.
The open Iowa race may be the most consistently even contest in the country. In the last five released polls here, two give Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA-1) a one-point lead, one shows state Sen. Joni Ernst (R) up by this same razor-thin margin, and two project the candidates tied. It doesn’t get any closer than this!
The Louisiana race is different in that the jungle primary will be held concurrently with the general election. This makes polling the race more difficult knowing that a Dec. 6 run-off likely between Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) and Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA-6) is a probability. The last five polls here date back all the way to May, thus making the aggregate conclusion less reliable. The Louisiana margins reveal two even polls, Cassidy up by six and one points, and Sen. Landrieu ahead by a spread of three.
Finally, the North Carolina Senate race, thanks to Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling conducting regular surveys of their home state, may be the most polled campaign in the country. The last five have shown greater spreads, with Sen. Kay Hagan (D) leading in four of them, by four, three, two, and one point(s). The fifth poll, from Rasmussen Reports (Aug. 5-6; 750 registered North Carolina voters) gives Republican Thom Tillis a five-point advantage.
As we enter political prime time, these races realistically constitute the Senate playing field. How they unfold will determine which party assumes control of the body in January.