Two Sleeper Races to Watch

In a normal course of an election cycle, particularly when entering the last month of campaign activity, discussion often turns to sleeper races. Some recent polling data gives us a clue in a couple of cases.

North Dakota – House

In a contest that is on virtually no one’s political board, a new Mellman Group poll for the George Sinner campaign actually shows the Democratic challenger taking a two-point, 40-38 percent, lead over freshman incumbent Rep. Kevin Cramer (R).

The survey (Sept. 20-22; 400 likely North Dakota voters) reveals a shocking turn of events that puts Sinner ahead of newcomer incumbent Cramer. The polling error factor, however, is “4.9 percent at a 95 percent level of confidence”, which is high. This means that the two candidates are running close together, from 2.5 points up to 2.5 points down. Hence, the tandem is about even, which will sound warning bells among Republican national party decision makers. Their solution will be to spend money in order to keep a seat that did not originally appear vulnerable.

It is clear that the Mellman Group, a well-known and respected Democratic polling firm, has detected a restlessness within the North Dakota electorate, and very likely a dissatisfaction directed toward their political leaders. While the two congressional candidates have good favorability ratings, they also possess relatively poor job approval scores. Rep. Cramer carries an acceptable 44:29 percent personal positive to negative rating, but only a 41:41 percent job approval ratio. Sinner, a state legislator, records a slightly better but similar 43:22 percent personal approval tally, yet his job approval is a lesser 36:29 percent.

Cramer still must be viewed as the favorite in this campaign, and he should be able to right the ship. But, North Dakota was the site of the biggest political upset in the 2012 election cycle when Democrat Heidi Heitkamp defeated then-Rep. Rick Berg (R-ND-AL) to win that year’s Senate campaign, thus demonstrating a recent unpredictable streak among voters.

George B. Sinner is the son of former two-term North Dakota Gov. George A. Sinner (D). Expect a countering Republican poll to soon be released.

Massachusetts – Governor

As we know, Massachusetts is probably the strongest Democratic state in the nation, so any poll that shows the party candidate behind in the governor’s race is a bit of a surprise. On the other hand, Republicans have won four of the last six gubernatorial campaigns, therefore having a GOP Bay State chief executive hasn’t been out of the ordinary since 1990.

SocialSphere, the firm polling for the Boston Globe, just released their latest survey results (Sept. 21-23; 400 likely Massachusetts voters). The data gives businessman Charlie Baker, the 2010 Republican gubernatorial nominee who lost to incumbent Gov. Deval Patrick (D) 42-48 percent, a slight 40-38 percent edge over Attorney General Martha Coakley (D).

The SocialSphere figures are only a mild surprise because Coakley’s weakness as a candidate must be taken into account. She is the person who lost the 2010 special US Senate election to Scott Brown (R), after Ted Kennedy passed away, through some highly publicized mistakes. She then rebounded in her run for re-election as attorney general later that same year, coming away victorious with 61 percent of the vote.

Despite earlier polling suggesting that Coakley has a significant lead over Baker, this race has the appearance of a campaign that will go down to the wire. It could also possibly affect one down ballot congressional race, as the now open 6th District is a contest between Iraq War veteran Seth Moulton (D) and former state Sen. Richard Tisei (R) after Moulton unseated Rep. John Tierney (D-Salem) in the Democratic primary. The 6th is a district that Baker will have to carry by a substantial margin to win statewide, so expect increased Republican activity in this northeastern Massachusetts region. The added Republican emphasis could tangentially help Tisei creep closer.

In what could be bad news for the Republican congressional candidate, three conservative organizations, the National Organization for Marriage, the Family Research Council, and CitizenLink, have jointly stated they will “urge voters not to support” three GOP candidates because of their social issues positions: Tisei, San Diego congressional candidate Carl DeMaio, and Oregon US Senate Republican nominee Monica Wehby. What effect this development has on Tisei’s prospects is debatable, but it certainly adds one more obstacle for the underdog candidate to overcome.

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