Senate Recap – Part II

By Jim Ellis

US Senate makeup

US Senate makeup

Sept. 24, 2018 — Today we continue our look at the most competitive 17 US Senate contests with our second and final installment. To take a look at our Part I recap, please see our writeup this past Friday at: Senate Recap – Part I.


Sen. Dean Heller (R) is embroiled in an intense re-election battle with freshman Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Henderson) as the two compete for a toss-up Senate seat. Heller won here in 2012 by a single percentage point over then-Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Las Vegas), but that was in the election when President Obama carried Nevada, 52-46 percent.

Polls go back and forth between the senator and congresswoman, but neither leads beyond the margin of polling error. Since the beginning of September three polls have been released, and the average spread between the contenders is just two points. This is a pure toss-up election and, as a Republican defense seat, one of the most important campaigns in the nation.


The Garden State is often a teaser for Republicans, meaning polls routinely suggest their candidates will fare better than actual results portend. The Senate race between incumbent Bob Menendez (D) and pharmaceutical CEO Bob Hugin (R) is likely no exception. Though several polls have indicated the race is competitive, it is probable that Sen. Menendez will pull away and score a comfortable win.

Polling has been scarce. The most recent survey was released in mid-August from Quinnipiac University (Aug. 15-20; 908 registered New Jersey voters) and projects the senator to be leading Hugin, 43-37 percent. Obviously, Menendez corruption trial that ended in the case against him falling apart and being dropped has taken a toll on his favorability index, but it is doubtful that even a 29:47 percent positive to negative personal approval rating (aforementioned Q-Poll) would cost him the election.


If polling were the only factor in determining race outlook, then North Dakota would be the Republicans’ best conversion opportunity. Though polls have been anything but plentiful, those that have been published find at-large Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-Bismarck) leading incumbent Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D).

The most recent study came in early September from Fox News (Sept. 8-11; 701 likely North Dakota voters) and finds Rep. Cramer holding a 48-44 percent advantage. This is the first survey release since the beginning of July.

The North Dakota race is a strong Republican conversion opportunity, but though Cramer appears to have a discernible edge right now, this contest is far from over.


Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) stands for a third term and faces four-term Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Wadsworth). The senator is favored to win, but there are indications that the race could close. The most current research, from Baldwin Wallace University (Sept. 5-15; 1,048 registered Ohio voters), finds Sen. Brown holding a 17-point lead, 49-32 percent. Just before that, Morning Consult (Oct. 2-11; 1,592 registered Ohio voters) arrived at a similar conclusion, 47-31 percent.

In July and late August, however, two surveys reported only four-point margins. Ohio has a hot governor’s race where most polling finds Republican attorney general and ex-US senator Mike DeWine holding a small lead.

The state broke late for the Republicans in 2016 and considering more recent election cycles have also yielded GOP victories, a more conservative voting pattern could be developing. There is no question that Sen. Brown is the favorite to win in November, but the race does merit some additional monitoring in the closing weeks to determine if Rep. Renacci can move into upset position.


Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D) has held a healthy lead throughout the election cycle, which the current data confirms. Yesterday, Rasmussen Reports released their Keystone State electorate survey (Sept. 12-13; 800 likely Pennsylvania voters) showing Sen. Casey leading Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Hazelton), 52-38 percent.

This double-digit margin is wholly consistent with previous data, and voter history and turnout data compliment the polling results. Therefore, Sen. Casey is in strong position to win a third term come Nov. 6.


The race between former Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) is one of the best in the nation. The Senate contest keeps bouncing back and forth between the two candidates, as the September polls indicate.

Fox News (Sept. 8-11; 686 likely Tennessee voters) sees Rep. Blackburn up 47-44 percent and Triton Research & Polling (Sept. 10-12; 1,038 registered Tennessee voters) gives her a 48-45 percent advantage. Conversely, CNN (Sept. 11-15; 723 likely Tennessee voters) projects Bredesen to hold a 50-45 percent edge, while Vox Populi (Sept. 16-18; 567 likely Tennessee voters) found the two candidates tied at 42 percent, but the Democrat gets a two-point boost when voters who say they are leaning to one of the candidates are added.

Expect this race to go down to the wire. Bredesen is taking advantage of his statewide familiarity and successful record as governor, while the state’s contemporary voting history and the other races on the statewide ballot clearly favor the Republicans.


The Senate contest between Sen. Ted Cruz (R) and Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso) continues to attract national attention with frequent polls being released. All the surveys point to a close federal race but find Republican Gov. Greg Abbott (R) in position to win easily.

Six polls have been returned in September, and five project the senator with a lead between three and nine percentage points. Vox Populi sees the two candidates tied at 46 percent apiece.

Texas has a history of Republicans under-polling and then pulling away at the end to give the GOP candidate a comfortable victory. Cruz’s lesser favorability ratings could yield a closer race, but the senator still must be rated as the favorite to win.


Sen. Joe Manchin (D) appears to be the clear favorite for re-election, but he is sitting in President Trump’s strongest state. Will the president be able to deliver substantial votes for Republican nominee Patrick Morrisey (R)? This is the main question that will soon be answered.

Eleven polls have been conducted since the early May primary. Ten of those find Sen. Manchin leading, with an advantage range between 13 and 6 points. The most recent survey comes from Emerson College (Sept. 13-15; 825 likely West Virginia voters) and gives Sen. Manchin one of his strongest leads, 45-33 percent.


While the governor’s race between incumbent Scott Walker (R) and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers (D) is attracting most of the Wisconsin political attention, the Senate race also shows some competitive signs. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D) is favored over state Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield), and all recent polling typically projects her to leads of slightly more than 10 points.

An August Marquette University Law School survey (Aug. 15-19; 601 likely Wisconsin voters) found only a two-point spread between the two women, 49-47 percent, but at this point such a result appears to be an anomaly. Three studies conducted after the Marquette August poll, including another one from the Law School’s polling arm, all have Sen. Baldwin topping 50 percent support with leads in the 10-point range. If Vukmir is to make a serious run, she will have to immediately demonstrate a more competitive stature.

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