Turbulent Senate Politics

By Jim Ellis

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) and Leeann Tweeden

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) and Leeann Tweeden

Nov. 20, 2017 — Currently, the near-term and long-range Senate outlook seems to fluctuate by the hour. Last week we repeatedly detailed the Republicans’ problem with Alabama Senate nominee Roy Moore and the effect the Dec. 12 special election will have upon the 2018 Senate cycle. But, yesterday became a day for the Democrats’ to receive similar bad news, albeit along with some good news.

While the Republicans languish in Alabama, Democrats were becoming increasingly concerned about Sen. Bob Menendez’s (D-NJ) corruption trial when a verdict appeared imminent, and what might happen should he be convicted. Last week, seeing the trial judge declare a mistrial, may mean that the senator’s legal hurdles have been cleared since it seems unlikely that the government would again pursue the case when prosecutors obviously had too little evidence to completely convince a jury that any crime had been committed.

But the positive Menendez result for the Dems was negated by the unfolding sexual harassment debacle involving Sen. Al Franken. Interestingly, though seemingly unrelated to the Alabama situation, both of these Democratic developments could influence the campaign’s course and help determine whether Judge Moore will be allowed to serve in the Senate if he rebounds to win the special election.

The Alabama campaign is of critical importance to both political parties because if Democrat Doug Jones upends the embattled Republican nominee, it would change the 2018 Senate cycle picture. Because Democrats are forced to defend 25 of the 33 in-cycle Senate states, their chances of netting the three conversion seats needed to capture the majority appear unattainable. To do so, the Democrats would have to protect all 25 of their seats, win the toss-up campaigns in both Arizona and Nevada, and score one victory in Mississippi, Nebraska, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, or Wyoming. In the manner to which the races are developing, it appears the chances of Democrats doing all of the aforementioned are the longest of long shots.

But, Alabama flipping actually changes the picture to the extent that Democrats would have a realistic chance of converting the majority because they would only need to net two, and no longer be forced to win one of the six safest red Republican states in the nation.

Democrats have been very quiet about the Judge Moore situation, mostly because Republicans appear all too willing to destroy themselves over it. There was also speculation that they didn’t want to become publicly over-anxious to bar Moore when they might have had to immediately turnaround and vote to keep one of their members who was on the precipice of becoming a convicted felon. With this Democratic problem likely alleviated, they now find themselves embroiled in a parallel situation with Franken to what the Republicans face in Alabama.

Therefore, should Moore win, Sen. Franken has actually made it more likely that a senator-elect Moore could well be sworn into office because it becomes very difficult for them support expelling Moore and then immediately vote to save Franken when the two are in similar situations.

Fox News, however, suggests that Moore’s victory chances are much less than after his scandal broke. But a closer look at their newly released survey suggests that their eight-point Jones’ margin may not be quite accurate.

Through the Anderson Robbins Research company, a Democratic firm, and Shaw & Company Research, a Republican polling group, Fox News surveyed 823 registered voters with a subset of 649 likely voters over the Nov. 13-15 period. The results suggest that Jones leads Judge Moore 50-42 percent.

The sampling group, however, looks to have an obvious Democratic skew. According to their methodological summary, Republicans comprise 48 percent of the sampling group, while Democrats number 42 percent. Though Alabama does not register by political party, it is rather obvious that the solid Republican state would not brandish such a tight political party division. This is especially noticeable when comparing the statewide votes in the past two elections that find no Democrat even breaking 37 percent of the vote.

Furthermore, the favorability indexes for tested political figures also point to a data skew. Former President Barack Obama actually scores in positive territory here, at 52:45 percent positive to negative. This is an unusual rating from an Alabama electorate to say the least. The results are even more glaring when seeing that attorney general and former Alabama US Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) records a lukewarm 51:40 percent favorability total, and President Trump tallies only a 49:48 percent ranking, far below how he has fared in other Alabama polls.

Therefore, when better understanding the Fox polling data, it again appears that the Alabama special election race is very close. If Jones really does lead at this juncture, and he well may, it is likely within the polling margin of error.

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