Tag Archives: Ben Nelson

New Senate Polls a Mixed Bag For Democrat Incumbents

Over the holiday period, several polls were taken around the country that produced mixed results for a trio of Democratic senators who routinely appear on Republican target lists. First, the new Magellan Strategies survey of Nebraska voters (12/15; 1,789 Nebraska registered voters via automated calls) confirms that beleaguered Sen. Ben Nelson (D) is highly vulnerable. In fact, the data reveals that he already trails two GOP statewide officials.

The Senator has seen his popularity ratings drop ever since he became identified as one of the key swing votes for the Obama healthcare program. His public concession to vote for the bill in exchange for substantial new Nebraska-based earmarks was a move that has clearly backfired within his constituency.

According to Magellan, Attorney General Jon Bruning (R), already officially in the Senate race, would defeat Nelson by a substantial 52-38% margin. Newly elected state Treasurer Don Stenberg, himself a former Nelson opponent and frequent statewide candidate, leads him 46-40%. The senator’s favorability ratio is upside down at 43:52% positive to negative. Bruning enjoys a 58:31% mark and Stenberg posts 48:34%.

Perhaps most troubling for Nelson is the voters’ opinion of the Obama healthcare legislation and their view of the Senator’s actions. By a 29-63% count, Nebraska voters oppose the healthcare law. Only 26% say Nelson did the right thing for the state, versus 64% who say his actions are indicative of what is wrong with Washington.

The Florida Public Policy Polling numbers (12/17-20; 1,034 FL registered voters via automated calls) are much better for the Democrats’ other Sen. Nelson. According to this data, no likely GOP candidate comes particularly close to Sen. Bill Nelson on the early ballot test questions. The two-term incumbent would defeat former Sen. George LeMieux (R), appointed by outgoing Gov. Charlie Crist to fill Sen. Mel Martinez’s unexpired term, 47-36%.

State Senate President Mike Haridopolos, already saying publicly that he will oppose Nelson, trails 32-44%. Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14) does a bit better, facing only a 36-44% deficit. One Republican does poll ahead of Sen. Nelson, but he’s not running: former Gov. Jeb Bush. Though Bush says he has no desire to enter elective politics again, the PPP data indicates he would begin such a hypothetical race with a 49-44% lead.

Turning to Missouri, Wilson Strategies is currently releasing a poll fielded in early December (11/30-12/1; 500 registered MO voters via live phoner interview) that predicts Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) is headed for another typically close Show Me State election battle.

The Wilson Strategies numbers show Sen. McCaskill to be in a more vulnerable position that Public Policy Polling did in their similar survey conducted around the same general time. Disparate polling is not particularly surprising when testing the Missouri electorate because the state tends to feature so many tight elections.

A 2012 Senate Snapshot

With 2012 Senate polling results already being released in at least four states, the new election cycle already is poised to begin. Unlike in the last three voting periods, it is the Democrats who must now defend the larger number of seats. In this particular cycle, because the Democrats did so well in the 2006 races, they are forced to defend 70% of the states standing for election; 23 Democratic Senators are up for re-election versus just 10 on the Republican side. This gives the GOP ample opportunity to win enough races to claim the majority.

The presidential election year turnout model is likely to be kinder to the Democrats than the 2010 mid-term voter participation ratio, but even with that advantage the GOP’s chances of gaining a net of four seats to claim an outright majority appears high. In 2010, the Republicans were forced to win 28 of the 37 campaigns in order to reclaim majority status. In 2012, they will only need to win 14 of 33 to do so, meaning a winning percentage of just .424. This obviously represents quite a change.

Let’s first start with the GOP defensive states. Today, of the 10 states they must risk, it appears that only two are vulnerable in a general election: scandal-tainted Nevada Sen. John Ensign, and Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, who must now run for a full six-year term. Ensign likely will face a competitive primary before going onto the general election. Early polling gives Brown a substantial advantage over every potential Democratic opponent.

The Tea Party could again be a factor in certain GOP Senate primaries that may eventually affect the general election, thus potentially putting more seats in play for the Democrats. Sens. Olympia Snowe (ME), Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX), and Orrin Hatch (UT) appear to be in such a category today. Of these three situations, the greatest general election effect will occur in Maine.

On the Democratic side, with 23 seats to defend, it appears that at least nine states begin in competitive status. Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, still feeling the effects of his crafting what is commonly called the “Cornhusker Kick-Back” in exchange for supporting Obamacare, leads the list of vulnerable Democrats. His favorability numbers suggest that several Nebraska Republican candidates could unseat him. Others in the highly vulnerable category include Sens. Jim Webb (VA), Jon Tester (MT), Claire McCaskill (MO), Bill Nelson (FL), Debbie Stabenow (MI), and Sherrod Brown (OH). The latter three, Nelson, Stabenow, and Brown, are in this category because of the way their states performed in 2010, the fact that the presidential election will increase the amount of political activity and awareness in their states, and that much GOP opposition activity is already underway.

Obviously, the 2012 Senate cycle will drastically change, but today’s outlook certainly gives the GOP ample opportunity to achieve their majority status goal.

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