Polls Confirm Key Senate Races are Toss-ups; Walsh’s Appointment Both Helps and Hurts

Karl Rove’s American Crossroads entered into the Senate polling arena in January, contracting with Harper Polling to provide surveys in seven key states. The HP results appear to be in line with other findings, except for one place.

Harper’s Alaska poll (Jan. 20-22; 677 registered Alaska voters) projects Sen. Mark Begich (D) to be trailing two Republican challengers, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and former Attorney General Dan Sullivan, by identical 41-47 percent margins. This is a much different result than found in the Public Policy Polling survey from a little more than a week ago (Jan. 30-Feb. 1; 850 registered Alaska voters), which posted the senator to a 43-37 percent advantage over Treadwell and 41-37 percent against Sullivan. Begich’s troubling factor, detected in both firms’ data, however, is his low 40s standing even when leading.

Harper’s results in the subsequent states are similar to other pollsters’ data. The Arkansas conclusion (Jan. 26-27; 533 likely Arkansas voters), as found in several other polls, gives Republican challenger Tom Cotton (R-AR-4) an advantage over Sen. Mark Pryor (D), in this case 42-36 percent. The early February Rasmussen Reports survey (Feb. 4-5; 500 registered Arkansas voters) recorded a relatively similar 45-40 percent Cotton margin.

The HP Louisiana poll (Jan. 19-20; 992 registered Louisiana voters) is comparable to the Jan. 28-29 Rasmussen Reports survey (500 registered Louisiana voters). Both post Republican challenger Bill Cassidy (R-LA-6) to a slight lead over three-term incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu (D). Harper scores it 45-44 percent. (In the jungle primary ballot test where all candidates are included, the results change drastically, however. In that configuration, Sen. Landrieu is first with 42 percent, followed by Rep. Cassidy at 29 percent with Republicans Rob Maness and Bob Hollis each taking 4 percent. If no candidate scores an outright a majority in the Nov. 4 election, the top two finishers will run-off on Dec. 6. The Rasmussen data yielded a 44-40 percent Cassidy advantage.

In Michigan, where polling has projected Rep. Gary Peters (D-MI-14) and former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land (R) to be within one to two points of each other for the past few weeks, Harper Polling (Jan. 19-20; 750 likely Michigan voters) finds a 42-37 percent advantage for the Republican.

The Montana Harper numbers for the race described in today’s first segment (Jan. 20-22; 519 likely Montana voters) gives Rep. Steve Daines a substantial 43-29 percent lead over newly appointed Sen. John Walsh (D).

Harper’s New Hampshire numbers (Jan. 22-23; 513 registered New Hampshire voters) are in line with the early January Public Policy Polling Granite State survey (Jan. 9-12; 1,354 registered New Hampshire voters). HP projects Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) to hold a 40-35 percent edge, similar to PPP’s 46-43 percent. The Purple Strategies consulting firm recently detected a 44-44 percent split, while the University of New Hampshire finds a much stronger Shaheen lead, 47-37 percent.

Finally, as in a myriad of North Carolina polls previously released into the public domain, Harper also sees Sen. Kay Hagan (D) (Jan. 20-21; 778 likely North Carolina voters) languishing in a difficult political position. According to the HP results, Sen. Hagan is in a flat tie with NC House Speaker Thom Tillis (R) at 44 percent apiece.

Once again we see confirming polling data telling us that the key senate races are virtual toss-ups throughout the nation. It is more than likely that such will be the case for the rest of the election cycle.

Montana Senate

When Pres. Obama announced his appointment of Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) as the next US Ambassador to China, it was a foregone conclusion that Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) would select Lt. Gov. John Walsh (D) as the outgoing veteran senator’s interim replacement. The political strategy dictated this move in order to boost the lieutenant governor’s underdog chances in his regular election Senate race against consensus Republican nominee Steve Daines (R-MT-AL). Though the governor refused to ever confirm such speculation, he did in fact appoint Walsh immediately upon Baucus winning Senate confirmation to his new position.

Walsh will now be a senator, but the appointment may not be completely advantageous. Though he will have a pretense of seniority and his Washington fundraising will increase greatly, his time away from day-to-day campaigning in Montana will be considerable, and he must take official votes and/or positions on controversial issues. From a big picture perspective, the development is a positive one for the interim senator, but Daines remains a clear favorite for November, nonetheless.

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