Category Archives: Senate

The Conflicting Trends

Though we spend a great deal of time writing about and analyzing polls, it is important to remember that even though individual ballot test data is helpful and allows us to gauge campaign trends, the isolated individual polls themselves can be misleading. Today’s examples coming from Nevada and Ohio are a case in point. In both states, polls conducted during the same sampling period are producing considerably different results.

In Nevada, Public Policy Polling (Sept. 18-20; 501 likely Nevada voters) and Public Opinion Strategies (Sept. 19-20; 500 likely Nevada voters) can’t even agree on which Senatorial candidate is leading the race. A similar range conflict is found in the Ohio Senate race between Gravis Marketing (Sept. 21-22; 594 likely Ohio voters) and the Washington Post (Sept. 19-23; 759 likely Ohio voters), though the incumbent, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D), leads in both studies.

Looking at the Silver State, PPP projects Democrat Shelley Berkley to have a 48-44 percent lead over appointed Sen. Dean Heller (R). But POS is posting Heller to the opposite position, as they show the Senator topping Berkley 44-39 percent. Among the Buckeye State likely voters (the Washington Post poll provides separate results for their larger sampling universe of 934 registered voters and the whittled down cell segment of 759 likely voters), the WP Poll gives Sen. Brown a substantial 51-43 percent advantage, while Gravis sees only a one-point difference (Brown over state Treasurer Josh Mandel (R) 44-43 percent) between the two candidates.

Examining the aggregate for all four polls, the net swing in Nevada is D minus 7 points from PPP to POS, while both show the same level of support for Republican Heller (44%). Interestingly, the Gravis and Washington Post Ohio polls reveal a similar effect. While Democrat Brown swings seven points between the two surveys, Republican Mandel scores the same level of support in both, 43 percent.

The presidential numbers in both states also show similar divisions. PPP gives President Obama a 52-43 percent lead over Mitt Romney in Nevada, while POS shows the two candidates tied at 46 percent. In this case, PPP is six points higher for the Democratic candidate and three points lower for the Republican for a net swing of nine points. In Ohio, the Washington Post gives Mr. Obama a 52-44 percent edge among likely voters while Gravis Marketing projects only a one-point 45-44 percent margin in the President’s favor. Again, the two polls detect the same level of support for the Republican candidate, but vary rather substantially (once more, a difference of seven points) for the Democratic contender.

All four of these polls are live interview surveys, as compared to those using the Interactive Voice Response method, so these studies are all in the “apples to apples” comparison category. All are making their own unpublished determination as to what they define as a “likely voter.” The pollsters weight the responses to mirror the state’s population and voter registration and preference history but don’t reveal their particular weighting equations. And, clearly, this distinction is key in relation to the Democratic scale because the Republican numbers among these various studies remains constant, or virtually constant (GOP presidential number in Nevada is different).

What does this tell us? Again, looking beyond the original ballot test numbers, we are seeing clear variance, particularly on the Democratic side. This is more than likely the result of the particular pollster’s sample selection, weighting equation, and likely voter determination while, of course remembering that all polls are a mere snap shot in time of a very small group of people. This is why contrasting multiple polls to obtain a picture of a particular campaign is so important, because the comparison tells a much different story than looking at any one of these polls individually.

Throughout this election cycle, pollsters have been detecting an electorate that is inconsistent and can abruptly swing. The polls we compare today certainly continue to show such characteristics. This means, to a large extent, that we are flying blind into Election Day, and that the final determining factors either haven’t yet happened or are not fully cemented.

A Senate Shift to the Left? Not Quite

Angus King, Independent

Several surveys were released this week that revealed a leftward polling shift in key Senate races, but new data publicized late yesterday returned to the previous pattern.

With only six-plus weeks left until Election Day, Democratic Senate candidates have made considerable gains, and earlier this week national trends were showing a clear shift in races that are pivotal to a Senate majority.

With 51 seats needed to maintain the Senate majority, a current combination of returning senators and candidates leading in 2012 contests would give the Democrats 48 members. One Independent candidate (Angus King), should he win the open seat three-way race in Maine, is likely to caucus with the Democrats, while another six races where neither candidate has led consistently are considered toss-ups. In three of the too-close-to-call states – Wisconsin, Massachusetts and Virginia – the Democratic candidates appear to have made gains since the national convention period, and early week polls showed a definite change in voter support. But, studies released late yesterday afternoon projected the Republican candidate to now be gaining in all three of those particular places.

In Wisconsin, the battle between former governor Tommy Thompson and Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin continues to make news. Polling completed after the Democratic gathering in Charlotte, N.C., ended showing a major shift in the race. A New York Times/CBS News/Quinnipiac University survey projected Rep. Baldwin to have drawn into a tie with Thompson, after trailing him by six percentage points in August. Additionally, a Marquette University poll, also released Wednesday, revealed Rep. Baldwin catapulting from a nine-point deficit all the way into a nine-point lead. The new CBS/Quinnipiac poll, however, brings the race back to an even footing.

In the Old Dominion, we see another slight shift to the left as two polls give the Democrat, former governor Tim Kaine, leads of four and seven percentage points over Republican ex-senator George Allen. The polls, including one from the Washington Post, found that Kaine has an eight percentage point lead over Allen, 51-43 percent. That’s a significant shift since May when their last poll found the two candidates – both universally known in Virginia politics – tied. The second poll, a Quinnipac University/CBS News/New York Times study released Wednesday found Kaine to hold a seven percentage point lead over Allen, 51-44 percent, but their respondent universe contained a substantial over-sampling of Democrats. Previously, the same partnering organizations’ poll conducted in late July posted Kaine to a smaller, two percentage point lead.

In New England, we see more movement. On Wednesday, a fourth consecutive poll was published putting Democrat Elizabeth Warren ahead of Sen. Scott Brown (R). The incumbent, who recently distanced himself from GOP nominee and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and continues to battle for the opportunity to win a full six-year term in office, must overcome the highest hurdle of adverse political voting history of any Republican candidate in the country.

The Republicans may be coming through their down polling period because of the positive consistency associated with the numbers released yesterday. This tells us it is too soon to tell if a pro-Democratic pattern is beginning to crystallize, or whether the recent upturn was a mere blip in the ebb and flow of the election cycle.

With only 46 days until Election Day it is a certainty that each of the long-term close Senate races will continue to help define which of the two parties will claim majority status when the new Congress convenes in January.

Angus King Fading in Maine

Ever since Independent former Gov. Angus King announced his candidacy for the open Maine Senate seat, he has been considered a strong favorite to win. And, there is a realistic scenario suggesting that he alone would decide who controls the Senate if by caucusing with one party or the other he either breaks a tie or creates one. Now, however, two new polls both show King to be in a weaker position in his three-way battle with GOP Secretary of State Charlie Summers and Democratic state Sen. Cynthia Dill.

According to the liberal Maine’s People’s Resource Center (Sept. 15-17; 856 likely Maine voters) that polled the race now and earlier in the year, King still posts a lead but it’s only about half as strong as it was in June. Today, they project King to have a 44-28-15 percent advantage over Summers and Dill, respectively. Public Policy Polling (Sept. 17-18; 804 likely Maine voters), surveying in the same time period, shows an even closer race. They have King leading only 43-35-14 percent.

Outside organizations have recently spent almost $2 million attacking King, and the operation appears to be working. The key to denying the state’s former governor victory is actually the Cynthia Dill number, which is more important than Summers’ support level. If Dill can break 20 percent, then King has trouble. In that scenario, all Summers has to do is hold the Republican base vote and he might have enough support to win. All of a sudden, the Maine campaign is knocking on the door of becoming a real race.

Three Senate Races Turn Again

Yesterday we reported on recent Senate trends that looked favorable for Republicans, but new just-released polling shows a trio of races producing positive Democratic numbers. Within the last week Republican candidates were pulling ahead in Indiana, Massachusetts and Wisconsin. Now Democratic sources say those races have abruptly turned around.

In the Hoosier State, the Global Strategy Group, polling for the Joe Donnelly campaign (Sept. 8-10; 800 likely Indiana voters), reports that their candidate is leading Republican nominee Richard Mourdock by a 45-42 percent count.

Western New England University (Sept. 6-13; 545 registered Massachusetts voters), which has previously polled the Massachusetts Senate race and posted Sen. Scott Brown to a lead, now shows challenger Elizabeth Warren to be opening up a six-point, 50-44 percent advantage. This poll has a small sample and a long interview period, both negative reliability factors. Additionally, Public Policy Polling (Sept. 13-16; 876 likely Massachusetts voters) also puts Warren ahead of Brown, but by a smaller, and probably more realistic, 48-46 percent margin.

Turning to the Badger State of Wisconsin, where all post-August primary polls have shown former governor Tommy Thompson to be enjoying leads of varying sizes over Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2), the Democrats are producing new surveys touting a different result. The Feldman Group for the Baldwin campaign (Sept. 9-12; 800 likely Wisconsin voters) gives their candidate a 50-45 percent lead over the Republican nominee. Public Policy Polling, conducting a survey for the liberal organization Democracy for America (Sept. 12-13; 959 likely Wisconsin voters) gives Baldwin a three-point, 48-45 percent slight edge. This poll also shows President Obama clinging to the barest of leads over Mitt Romney in Wisconsin, a 49-48 percent count.

The campaigns are fluid, so these snap-shot numbers could be accurate, at least in the short term. The Indiana data is internally sourced from the Democratic campaign, which is always suspect without viewing the entire questionnaire. On the other hand, the Mourdock campaign has yet to release countering data of its own. The Western New England University poll likely has a large error factor and should be discounted. The Wisconsin studies could have validity because Thompson has not yet countered two solid weeks of heavy negative advertising against him. Expect more twists and turns in all of these races before November arrives.

Senate Trends

Rep. Todd Akin

More is becoming known about the nation’s US Senate races, and trends are forming. With seven full weeks to go until Election Day, much can still change but at this point, both parties could be headed to the 50-seat mark. Ironically for Republicans, it could well be Todd Akin’s fate in Missouri, the candidate national GOP leaders attempted to replace because of his unintelligent comments, that will decide which party controls the body in the new Congress.

As we know, of the 33 in-cycle seats, Democrats are defending 23. Today, they appear safe in 10 of those: California (Feinstein), Delaware (Carper), Maryland (Cardin), Minnesota (Klobuchar), New Jersey (Menendez), New York (Gillibrand), Pennsylvania (Casey), Rhode Island (Whitehouse), Washington (Cantwell), and West Virginia (Manchin).

Two more are headed toward the Independent column, and those winners will either caucus or vote with the Democrats. Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vermont) runs as an Independent but joins the Democratic conference. Angus King, the Independent former governor, is strong favorite for Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe’s (R) seat as the campaign turns into the home stretch. He is projected to caucus with the Democrats, but has yet to commit to do so. If the fate of the majority comes down to King, it is unclear what might happen.

Trending toward the Democrats appears to be the races in Hawaii (open seat – Rep. Mazie Hirono), Michigan (Stabenow), New Mexico (open seat – Rep. Martin Heinrich), and Ohio (Sherrod Brown).

Hawaii polls have been erratic, but the preponderance of polling data gives Rep. Mazie Hirono a clear lead. Same is true in Michigan for two-term Sen. Debbie Stabenow and first-term incumbent Sherrod Brown. Though polling shows Rep. Martin Heinrich well ahead of former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM-1), this is another race that could turn. Wilson’s strength with Independents in the state could make a difference if Democratic turnout is even slightly low.

Republicans are safe in fives seats: Mississippi (Wicker), Tennessee (Corker), Texas (Cruz), Utah (Hatch), and Wyoming (Barrasso).

Trending toward the GOP are the races in Indiana (open seat – Richard Mourdock), Massachusetts (Scott Brown), Nebraska (open seat – state Sen. Deb Fischer), Nevada (Heller), North Dakota (open seat – Rep. Rick Berg), and Wisconsin (open seat – former governor Tommy Thompson).

The Indiana race is tight – some polls show it about even – but Richard Mourdock has not made any mistakes in his battle with Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-IN-2). Hoosier State voting trends at the top of the ticket – Mitt Romney appears headed for victory over the President here and Rep. Mike Pence is a solid favorite in the governor’s race – should help pull Mourdock across the finish line.

Recent polling in Massachusetts and Nevada is giving senators Scott Brown and Dean Heller small, but consistent and discernible leads over Elizabeth Warren (D) and Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1), respectively.

While the North Dakota seat has been tight for most of the campaign, more recent polling indicates that Rep. Rick Berg is opening up a lead well beyond the margin of error.

All post-primary polls in Wisconsin give former governor Tommy Thompson a lead over Madison Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2). All of these races could turn away from the Republicans before Election Day, but today, the GOP candidates look to be in the winning position.

Questions abound in the following campaigns:

• Arizona (open seat): Though Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ-6) is favored here, some polls are detecting a close race and Democratic nominee Richard Carmona is making this campaign a battle.

• Connecticut (open seat): A combination of factors have come together to make this race, at least in the short term, more competitive than expected. GOP nominee Linda McMahon being awarded the Independent Party ballot line, new polling showing the two candidates running close, and a personal financial situation involving Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) are all minor individual items that taken in the aggregate could become significant.

• Florida: Polling has been extremely inconsistent in the Sunshine State, but more surveys favor Sen. Ben Nelson than Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14). The campaign is trending Nelson’s way now, but the presidential final wave will have a lot to say about its final outcome.

• Missouri: Right after the August primary, Rep. Todd Akin made rape-related abortion comments that stirred a national hornet’s nest. Incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) jumped well into the lead, but the margin has since dissipated and the race is back in toss-up range. McCaskill is the most vulnerable of all Democratic incumbents standing for re-election, and Akin is the Republicans’ weakest national challenger. This one is far from over.

Montana: The political battle between first-term Sen. Jon Tester (D) and Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT-AL) has been close for months. In the past eight weeks, the polling was detecting a slight Rehberg advantage. A new survey released last week, however, showed Tester regaining the lead. The presidential election will weigh heavily on this race, and Mitt Romney seems to be enjoying a healthy advantage in Big Sky Country. This race will likely go down to the wire.

• Virginia: Possibly the closest race in the country, the campaign between former senator George Allen (R) and ex-governor Tim Kaine (D) has been dead even for the better part of a year. As in Florida and Montana, the presidential race looms large in the Virginia Senate race. The result is too close to call.

To recap, if this analysis is correct, the Democrats are safe or ahead in 16 races, including the two Independent candidates, and Republicans are safe in 11. Under this model, the GOP would attain the majority 51 number if they win any three of the six questionable races isolated above.

Connecticut Comes Alive

Rep. Chris Murphy

The Connecticut Senate race may be twisting in a new direction. After several post-primary polls have shown Republican challenger Linda McMahon pulling closer to Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5), a personal financial situation could potentially put some wind at her back.

The McMahon campaign has filed an outside ethics complaint against Congressman Murphy, saying that he received preferential loan consideration in return for supporting TARP, the creation of which eventually led to a multi-million dollar loan for the bank in question. The Stamford Advocate, a publication supporting Murphy, details the financial history of the congressman missing some mortgage payments before his election to the House, which resulted in foreclosure process initiation. He later received a home equity loan, but only after the original loan was paid in full. According to financial professionals that the Advocate interviewed, nothing appeared improper about Murphy’s loan and the bank’s action in his regard. McMahon’s people counter that an average citizen who earlier faced foreclosure proceedings would not have qualified for another loan.

In addition to the Murphy finances controversy, McMahon also secured the Connecticut Independent Party designation, so her name will appear twice on the Senatorial ballot. This development could well mean more than a day or two of soon-forgotten media coverage over Murphy’s loan history, as the Independent line can account for several percentage points.

Though McMahon lost to Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D) 55-43 percent two years ago, she does appear to be trending upward now. Rep. Murphy remains the favorite, however, regardless of the budding financial controversy. The Democratic nature of the state, particularly in a presidential election year, will pay major dividends for the congressman. The race should still be rated as Lean Democratic, but it does merit further attention at least in the short term.

Massachusetts Primary Results

Richard Tisei – Republican hopeful?

The Massachusetts primary bore no surprises last night, as all incumbents breezed to renomination victories.

In the western state 1st District, a redistricting combination of current CDs 1 and 2 (remember, the state lost a seat in reapportionment), incumbent Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA-2) easily overcame his Democratic primary challenge from former state senator Andrea Nuciforo Jr. Neal won 65-25%. The congressman has unofficially already won re-election as he is unopposed in the general election.

Worcester Rep. Jim McGovern crushed his Democratic primary opponent, garnering more than 91 percent of the vote. He, too, is unopposed in the general election.

In the newly configured District 3 (Lowell-Lawrence-north/central Mass.), incumbent Rep. Niki Tsongas will face GOP primary winner Jon Golnik, a businessman. The general election campaign will not be competitive.

In the southern part of the state, as expected, Joseph P. Kennedy III, the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, broke 90 percent in the Democratic primary and moves to the general election. He is a prohibitive favorite against 2010 Republican nominee Sean Bielat in the battle to replace the retiring Congressman Barney Frank (D).

Checking the Malden-Melrose-Framingham seat, 18-term incumbent Ed Markey (D) will face military veteran Tom Tierney who won the three-way Republican primary with 43 percent of the vote. Tierney will have little chance against Markey in the fall.

The 6th District, in the northeastern corner of the Bay State, breaks the trend of non-competitive general election campaigns as Rep. John Tierney (D) and former state senator Richard Tisei (R) will square-off in what has the potential of becoming a close contest. Tierney, originally elected in 1996, won a 55-41 percent re-election victory two years ago after his wife was convicted of tax fraud for her activities in her brother’s off-shore internet gambling business. Tisei, who has already raised more than $1.4 million for the campaign and had $630,000 still remaining in his campaign bank account at the Aug. 17 pre-primary financial disclosure deadline, is a top-tier challenger. The 6th is one of the few Massachusetts congressional districts that could elect a Republican.

In the 7th District, Rep. Mike Capuano (D-MA-8) had no Democratic opposition last night and faces only a minor party candidate in November. Another easy win is in store for the congressman who, for a time, considered a Senate challenge to Republican incumbent Scott Brown but backed away and chose to remain in the House.

In the Boston-Quincy 8th District, Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA-9) will face GOP businessman Joe Selvaggi in what will be an easy run for a seventh term. The congressman was unopposed for renomination last night.

Finally, the new 9th District, which covers the southeastern part of the state starting in Brockton and then travels due east to encompass the Cape Cod peninsula, freshman Rep. Bill Keating, who only represents 59 percent of this new constituency, scored a 60 percent victory in last night’s Democratic primary against Bristol County District Attorney Sam Sutter. Keating now faces local town Selectman Adam Chaprales who won a close Republican primary. The general election will not be competitive.

Considering the November vote, Massachusetts will host two hot races, the US Senate contest between incumbent Scott Brown (R) and challenger Elizabeth Warren (D) and the 6th Congressional District battle between Rep. Tierney (D) and former state legislator Tisei (R). The 20-percent competitive factor (two of 10 federal races) is actually a high number for Massachusetts, which historically is the quintessential one-party state.