US Senate Candidate Ratings

By Jim Ellis

daily-kos-fox-news-pollingJune 19, 2018 — Two organizations just released 2018 US Senate race ratings, and though the differences are few it is worth analyzing the aggregate comparison.

Fox News and the Daily Kos Elections site published their updated ratings at the end of last week. Fox is a bit different in that they do not distinguish a “safe” race from one where the current favorite is a “likely” winner. Therefore, they have only five categories instead of the traditional seven.

While both organizations place eight Senate races in their Toss-up category, there are differences. The most glaring variance appears to be the Nevada race featuring Sen. Dean Heller (R) and Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Henderson). The other is the Tennessee open campaign that finds Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) and former governor, Phil Bredesen (D), vying to replace retiring Sen. Bob Corker (R). The Tennessee primary is not scheduled until Aug. 2, but there is no doubt that both will advance into the general election.

Daily Kos rates the Nevada race a toss-up, but Fox favors Rep. Rosen as it puts the campaign into the Lean Democratic column. The Fox rating is curious in that current polling is tight, Sen. Heller is the incumbent, winning in 2012 even though President Obama scored a 52-46 percent victory in the state over Mitt Romney, and he also has three other statewide conquests to his credit, as secretary of state, dating back as far as 1994.

Furthermore, though Hillary Clinton carried the Silver State in 2016, her win percentage was only 47.9 – 45.5 percent. In 2014, Republicans, taking advantage of a very low Democratic turnout, swept the state from top to bottom as Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) racked up a 71 percent landslide and setting the tone for the down ballot contests. Therefore, it is difficult to see any current piece of numerical or historical evidence that suggests this race is anything but a toss-up.

The Tennessee campaign finds Fox rating the race as a Toss-up, while Daily Kos assigns a Likely Republican ranking.

Considering Tennessee’s strong Republican bent since Gov. Bredesen was last on the ballot in 2006, and Blackburn’s strong early fundraising (she already had just a shade under $6 million in her campaign account at the end of March), the Daly Kos “Likely Republican” outlook appears to be the more accurate of the two despite the fact that Democrats were successful in recruiting their strongest possible candidate in Bredesen. But this may go too far. One can see justification for favoring Rep. Blackburn, but a current “Lean Republican” forecast might be more precise.

The two organizations are consistent when looking at the remainder of the Toss-up category: Arizona, (Rep. Jeff Flake (R) retiring; Florida, Sen. Bill Nelson (D) vs. Gov. Rick Scott (R); Indiana, Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) opposite former state Rep. Mike Braun (R); Missouri, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) vs. AG Josh Hawley (R); Montana, Sen. Jon Tester (D) against State Auditor Matt Rosendale (R); North Dakota, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) vs. at-large Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-Bismarck); and West Virginia, Sen. Joe Manchin (D) opposite AG Patrick Morrisey (R).

Both polls find Montana Sen. Jon Tester in a toss-up situation, and while this race may evolve that way as we move deeper into the election cycle, such doesn’t appear to be the case right now. Polling, fundraising, Sen. Tester’s previous electoral performance, and his stronger favorability index all suggest that a “Lean Democrat” ranking is more reflective of the contest’s current status.

Other differences worth mentioning occur in Minnesota, Mississippi, and Wisconsin.

While both polls place appointed Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) in the Likely Democratic category, a “Lean D” rating could be considered since Sen. Smith has never run statewide in her own right, likely Republican nominee Karin Housley, a two-term state senator, has the potential of evolving into a credible candidate, and Minnesota is becoming a more competitive state.

Likewise, the rating appointed to Mississippi Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) as “Likely Republican” might also be too generous. She faces a special jungle primary on Nov. 6, and a likely run-off three weeks later with former US Agriculture Secretary and ex-Mississippi Congressman Mike Espy, assuming she outpaces Republican state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R-Ellisville) to qualify. Much will happen in this race between now and November, suggesting the situation may be more tenuous than placing it beyond “Lean Republican” status at this particular time.

Finally, while Fox rates Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s (D-WI) prospects in the Likely/Safe Democratic category, Daily Kos sees it as trending Lean Democrat. Considering Wisconsin’s voting history, and that the state features close races, the Daily Kos ranking may be the more accurate. Though it is clear that Sen. Baldwin is the favorite to win in November, once the Republicans choose a nominee in August the general election campaign is likely to close.

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