By Jim Ellis
Oct. 27, 2016 — It is very possible that the US Senate majority, if not the presidential race, will be decided when the hard fought races in New Hampshire and North Carolina conclude.
In the past two weeks, New Hampshire polling trends have been suggesting that the top of the ticket is becoming a lock for Hillary Clinton, which should be very important for down ballot Democrats. During the past 10 years the Granite State electorate has consistently voted top-to-bottom sweeps for one party or the other, so a big Clinton New Hampshire victory is a positive sign for all other Democratic candidates here. But, a new poll shows a potential breaking of this paradigm.
The latest University of Massachusetts/YouGov poll, conducted during the Oct. 17-21 period and interviewing 848 individuals that narrowed to 772 likely voters, found Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) assuming a three point, 46-43 percent, re-election advantage over Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan that grew to 48-44 percent when “leaners” were added to the calculation.
Conversely, in the equally close and important US Senate race to the south, the latest Tar Heel State polls had been pointing to small but consistent leads for Republican incumbent Richard Burr. The release of a North Carolina university poll from the New York Times/Siena College (Oct. 20-23; 792 likely North Carolina voters), however, posts challenger Deborah Ross (D) ahead of Sen. Burr (R) by a scant one-point margin, 47-46 percent.
Though the Clinton-Donald Trump ballot test was not queried in the New Hampshire data, the lone presidential question may have provided Sen. Ayotte with an even better positive response than the Senate ballot test. The respondents were reminded that Ayotte originally said she would vote for Trump, but now has reversed course. By a margin of just 19-15 percent, those answering said they were less inclined to support Ayotte because of this, but a whopping 64 percent said her position in the presidential race would make no difference regarding their individual vote for Senate. With Trump continuing to drop, Ayotte being able to independently break away from him is highly important to her victory chances.
But, the UMass/YouGov poll loses some credibility, however, when examining the tight 1st District congressional race between Rep. Frank Guinta (R) and former Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D). The Democratic ex-congresswoman was twice defeated here as an incumbent, but she leads Guinta 39-36 percent and 41-37 percent when including “leaners”.
In a major mistake, however, the UMass surveyors omitted to include Independent candidate Shawn O’Connor, who has spent $1.5 million on the congressional race and is clearly a factor in the campaign. Even more surprising, they did include Libertarian candidate Rob Lombardo who has done nothing more than place his name on the ballot. Clearly omitting O’Connor skews the 1st District responses, at the very least.
The NYT/Siena College research study provides North Carolina Democrats with good news across the board. Though trailing, Sen. Burr does perform best among Republicans. In contrast, Clinton leads Trump and Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson – Green Party candidate Jill Stein did not qualify for the North Carolina ballot – by a substantial 46-39-8 percent, while state Attorney General Roy Cooper (D) forges ahead of Gov. Pat McCrory (R), 51-45 percent, in their raucous statewide contest.
It is possible the North Carolina poll is an anomaly because the preponderance of most current data has been more favorable to Republicans. In fact, a Monmouth University survey taken during exactly the same time period, but of a much smaller sampling universe (402 likely voters), finds Burr leading 49-43 percent. Prior to the NYT/Siena poll Burr had led in eight of the last nine statewide polls (from eight different pollsters), and the only one not to follow this trend ended in a 46-46 percent tie (NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist College; Oct. 10-12; 743 likely North Carolina voters).
The same is largely true in the governor’s race, where incumbent McCrory was either leading or trailing Cooper by no more than two points prior to seeing the NYT/Siena results. The presidential data is similar, since the last five surveys found Trump trailing by no more than three points, and actually up three in one poll (Remington Research; Oct. 20-22; 1,764 likely North Carolina voters).
Both New Hampshire and North Carolina continue to play critical roles in the presidential and US Senate political contests, and will no doubt factor prominently when the actual results become known on Nov. 8. If Republicans are to hold their Senate majority, they must come through in both places.