Category Archives: Senate

Is Maine’s King Losing His Luster?

Angus King

Perhaps until right now, it had been a foregone conclusion that Maine’s Independent former governor Angus King was the prohibitive favorite to replace the retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe (R). After the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) and other outside advocacy organizations unleashed heavy anti-King media spending, however, the former two-term state chief executive’s polling numbers have come back to earth. And, in a three-way race where the majority of voters will likely vote for someone other than the eventual winner, virtually anything can happen.

The race pits King against GOP Secretary of State Charlie Summers and Democratic state Sen. Cynthia Dill. King, who champions liberal causes as indicated by his support from the trial lawyers PAC, the Council for a Livable World, and Google PAC, is portraying himself as an independent moderate, even going so far as having actor Sam Waterston appear in a television commercial to echo his campaign theme.

A new GS Strategy Group survey conducted for the NRSC shows King’s lead diminishing severely. Though he continues to place first, his margin is now only 37-33-17 percent over Summers and Dill. In another poll released to MaineToday Media on Sept. 20, King leads 50-28-12 percent. But, driving below the original ballot test numbers for that particular survey, the King supporters who say they are definitely voting for him register only 32 percent.

Maine has a penchant for electing candidates who don’t belong to either major political party. In addition to King, Independent Jim Longley was elected governor in 1974. Two years ago, Independent Eliot Cutler finished a strong second to Republican Paul LePage, losing by less than two points. It is the latter election that Charlie Summers is hoping to emulate. Assuming he holds the base Republican vote of 37-39 percent, Democrat Dill topping 20 percent would give him a chance to slip past King. This would be virtually identical to the vote dispersion that elected LePage.

The Maine Senate race is an interesting one, because if President Obama is re-elected and the Republicans hit 50 in the Senate, both of which are quite possible, it would be King alone who would decide which party would assume majority control. Most believe that he will caucus with the Democrats, which is most likely, but stressing his independence certainly makes it more difficult for him to immediately fall into the Democratic fold. Even his slogan, “… as Independent as Maine,” stresses that Mr. King is not inclined to easily conform to Washington’s over-heated partisan divisions.

The Chamber of Commerce has run a series of ads playing upon King’s name, referring to him as “the King of spending” during his tenure as governor. The claim that he over-spent and then left the state with a huge deficit is resonating in this political climate and is a probable reason for King’s decline. The former governor retorts that he cut taxes, improved education, and protected Maine’s open space.

But the more intriguing part of the campaign revolves around Dill. She has little in the way of campaign funding, so outside organizations are trying to improve her standing. The NRSC, in a negative way, but designed to improve her standing among Democrats, is illustrating that she is even more liberal than King. Meanwhile, outside groups are driving home the message that King is flawed and Dill is the preferred progressive candidate.

The dynamics of the Maine Senate race are the most unusual in the nation, and much more is potentially riding upon the election outcome than who represents the state in Washington. Under the proper circumstances, the entire Senate majority may rest upon this one campaign.

The Stretch Drive Begins for Senate, House Races

October is here and the political stretch drive is beginning, so it is appropriate to examine where the Senate and House campaigns stand from an aggregate party division perspective.

For most of the election cycle, Republicans appeared to be on the precipice of capturing the Senate majority, taking it away from Harry Reid and the Democrats. But, new swings in momentum show a more Democratic trend.

Recently, Democratic incumbents in Florida and Ohio have gained strength and open seat contender Tammy Baldwin has seized the initiative in the open Wisconsin campaign. Sunshine State polls have been erratic, but Sen. Bill Nelson now seems to have built a consistent and sustained advantage. First-term Sen. Sherrod Brown has also seen the polls ebb and flow, but his mid to high single digit edge over GOP state Treasurer Josh Mandel is stabilizing, at least for the short term. Baldwin’s ad offensive and Republican former governor Tommy Thompson’s recent comments about dismantling entitlements has posted the Democratic nominee to a slight lead.

After some flirtation with breaking toward the Democrats, the pure toss-up campaigns in Massachusetts (Sen. Scott Brown vs. Elizabeth Warren), Montana (Sen. Jon Tester opposing Rep. Denny Rehberg), and Virginia (ex-senator George Allen and former governor Tim Kaine) have re-established themselves as dead heat campaigns. All three of these races will likely go down to the wire.

Additionally, there is movement toward Republicans in at least two long shot states, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, while Democrats are making Arizona a race. By most polls, Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) still leads Republican Linda McMahon, but the gap is closing and the latter has gained the offensive.

The sleepy Pennsylvania Senate race has finally arisen, and Republican Tom Smith’s recent ad blast appears to be bringing him to within a single-digit deficit of first-term incumbent Bob Casey Jr. Democrats are still likely to prevail here and in Connecticut, but there is no question that Republican candidates in both places have created some current positive momentum.

Democrat Richard Carmona, the former US Surgeon General, is pulling much closer to Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ-6) in their open seat battle according to most polls. As in Connecticut and Pennsylvania for the Democratic candidates, Flake still must be considered the favorite to prevail.

The Missouri campaign between Sen. Claire McCaskill who, at the beginning of the cycle appeared to be the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent standing for re-election, and the mistake-ridden Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO-2) is still in toss-up territory. Most believe, however, that activity in the final stretch will favor the Democratic Senator.

Republicans were thought early to be clear favorites in North Dakota and Indiana, but polling is still indicating that both of these campaigns remain close. The GOP appears to be a lock to convert Sen. Ben Nelson’s (D) open Nebraska seat, and Independent Angus King continues to maintain the inside track in retiring Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe’s seat in Maine, though the numbers are closing.

Today, Democrats look to be ahead in enough states to give them a 49-47 aggregate lead in the Senate, with four races in the toss-up column; three of which are currently Democratically held. Hence, the majority remains in abeyance.

The House has been the most stable of the federal political entities in the 2012 cycle. Post-census redistricting will prove to be the determining factor here and that favors the Republicans. It appears the partisan swing will deviate between a +/- three seat margin in terms of aggregate gains and losses for the two parties, but Republican control seems secure.

Democrats could be gaining as many as three seats in Florida and potentially the same or more in Illinois. Republicans are positioned to score similarly in North Carolina. New York and California remain as wild cards.

While the GOP appeared to be in position to gain seats up until the last two weeks, Democrats are enjoying a swing in some House races, too. The best estimate indicates Republicans will comfortably retain control, but Democrats could make an aggregate gain in the low single digits.

Today, it appears that 233 seats are safely or trending Republican as compared to 186 headed to the Democrats. Sixteen seats are considered too close to call, with 11 of the 16 being in GOP currently held districts.

Two Long Shot Races Turning

A pair of under-the-radar Senate races are now becoming competitive, recent polls indicate. In Arizona and Pennsylvania new publicly released surveys put a Democratic and Republican underdog in the national spotlight for the first time.

In the Grand Canyon State for the seat of retiring Sen. Jon Kyl (R), polling results from Democratic nominee Richard Carmona, the former U.S. Surgeon General under President George W. Bush, places him in a virtual tie with his favored Republican opponent, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ-6). Anzalone Liszt Research, polling for the Carmona campaign, surveyed 600 likely voters over Sept. 18-23 period and projected 44-43 percent results. Other recent surveys also put the Arizona seat in play, but their margins still favor Flake beyond the margin of error. Rasmussen Reports publicized a study earlier this week giving the congressman a six-point, 47-41 percent lead, and the international research firm YouGov posted mid-September data that projected the Republican nominee to be enjoying a similar 43-37 percent margin.

Flake, a six-term congressman from Mesa, Ariz., is best known as one of the leaders of the movement to end spending earmarks. Opposed in the late August Republican primary, he easily defeated wealthy businessman Wil Cardon. Many Democratic strategists believe that Dr. Carmona, an Independent-turned-Democrat who President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid encouraged to run, can score an upset win. While current polling is beginning to show serious competition, voting history nonetheless yields a conclusion that the seat will stay red.

In the Keystone State of Pennsylvania, we see another Senate race growing tighter as we inch closer to Election Day. Incumbent Democratic Sen. Bob Casey Jr. has maintained a sizable lead throughout the campaign, however, his challenger, a self-funding former Democrat, appears to be making a move. Recently the seat has moved from “likely” to “lean Democratic” proving that GOP nominee Tom Smith is gaining ground against the incumbent. With President Obama polling well in Pennsylvania, Smith will have to run substantially ahead of his own presidential nominee to record a surprise win, making his uphill task even more difficult.

Tom Smith is a former coal company chief executive officer who handily won the Republican primary with multi-million dollars in personal expenditures. Smith is making a strong issue of his coal background and using recent plant closings as a way to draw a contrast between himself and Casey. Smith will attempt to take advantage of Obama’s Cap & Trade legislative initiative that proved so lethal to Democrats in the 2010 elections. Pennsylvania is the nation’s fourth largest coal producer, providing over 5 percent of the nation’s aggregate total.

Recent polls do suggest positive movement for Smith, leaving the Democrats a bit uneasy. A Quinnipac University poll (1,180 likely voters, +/- 2.9% error factor) released this Wednesday showed Sen. Casey leading the Republican just 49-43 percent, a drop all the way from 55-37 percent (a net swing of 12 points) in late July. Another contemporary Susquehanna Research survey published in the Pittsburgh Review Tribune newspaper also showed a similar split with Casey only leading 46-41 percent.

It’s clear from the political metrics that Smith is making gains, but is it too little, too late? With Obama consistently leading Mitt Romney here and Sen. Casey maintaining at least a small edge over challenger Smith, the patterns still suggest the Pennsylvania Senate seat will remain in the blue column.

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.