Tag Archives: Virginia

The Senate: Post-Labor Day

Now that we have moved past the Labor Day weekend, the traditional general election cycle has officially begun. That being the case, what is the current status of our nation’s Senate races especially now that all 33 campaigns have official, or soon-to-be official, nominees?

According to our latest PRIsm Information Network count, the majority Democrats, who must defend 23 of the 33 in-cycle seats, are ahead in 18 races. Republicans, who need to gain four net seats in order to establish a new majority, lead in nine states. Six feature races that are too close to call. If the ratings prove correct, Democrats would control 48 seats and Republicans 46 with the six “toss-ups” coming from a trio apiece of Republican and Democratic states.

Starting with the toss-ups, even though the Missouri race between Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) and Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO-2) has been the topic of recent political conversation; the polling swing seems to be reverting back to the Republican, so the race must again be placed in the outcome unclear column. McCaskill is the weakest Democratic incumbent standing for re-election and Akin stumbled badly, as did the national Republican leaders who immediately pounced on him, but the polls are again showing an even race despite major controversy over his rape-related abortion comment.

The Virginia (open: Tim Kaine-D, vs. George Allen-R), Montana (Sen. Jon Tester-D vs. Rep. Denny Rehberg-R) and Massachusetts (Sen. Scott Brown-R vs. Elizabeth Warren-D) contests are all dead even and have been for some time. Recently, the Bay State race has turned in more favorable numbers for Sen. Brown, but the Democratic voting history here clearly will give Warren a strong push.

The Indiana and North Dakota races are proving interesting. Both should be solidly Republican this year, but polling consistently shows neither performing as such.

The defeat of Sen. Richard Lugar in the Indiana Republican primary has certainly opened the door for Democrat Joe Donnelly (D-IN-2), but how far? With Lugar losing a landslide renomination effort to state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, it has become apparent that the congressman would have likely fared better had Lugar eked out a close victory. More traditional voting patterns should take hold here as we move closer to Election Day, especially with President Obama not targeting the state. This should help Mourdock.

When Sen. Kent Conrad (D) announced his retirement early this year, it was assumed that at-large Rep. Rick Berg (R) would succeed him with little fanfare. Quite the opposite is occurring as popular Democratic nominee Heidi Heitkamp, the state’s former attorney general and gubernatorial candidate, continues to perform well in polling. After being rated as decidedly lean Republican, this race now must be considered a toss-up.

Six more states are in the lean Democratic column, two of which show signs of heading toward toss-up status. Both the Florida and Ohio contests feature Democratic incumbents that polling shows are in competitive races in states that will probably play a defining role in the presidential contest. Senators Bill Nelson (FL) and Sherrod Brown (OH) may see their own political futures determined by an end-of-campaign wave either for President Obama or challenger Mitt Romney. The flow of the campaign currently suggests that both of these Senate races will be subjected to final trends.

The Connecticut open (Rep. Chris Murphy-D vs. Linda McMahon-R), Hawaii (Rep. Mazie Hirono-D vs. former Gov. Linda Lingle-R), Michigan (Sen. Debbie Stabenow-D vs. former Rep. Pete Hoekstra-R), and New Mexico (Rep. Martin Heinrich-D vs. former Rep. Heather Wilson-R) campaigns are also trending close but decidedly toward the Democrats. They are each competitive enough where significant movement could occur late in the cycle.

Three seats are in the Lean Republican column, one of which, the Wisconsin open (former Gov. Tommy Thompson-R vs. Rep. Tammy Baldwin-D), just recently moved from the toss-up category. The other two lean R states are Arizona, where Rep. Jeff Flake’s (R-AZ-6) overwhelming victory in the GOP primary makes him a clear favorite over former US Surgeon General Richard Carmona (D), and Nevada where appointed Sen. Dean Heller (R) continues to hold a defined edge, though one that is becoming slimmer according to the latest surveys, over Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1).

Four Democratic seats are in the Likely D column, including those in New Jersey (Sen. Bob Menendez), Pennsylvania (Sen. Bob Casey Jr.), and Washington (Sen. Maria Cantwell). Maine’s Independent former Gov. Angus King should win retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe’s (R) seat, and it is likely that he will caucus with the Democrats. Polling suggests some competition exists in this quartet of states, but the voting history supporting the current numbers gives an even more decided advantage to each Democratic incumbent. Sen. Cantwell, in her race against state Sen. Michael Baumgartner (R), is moving closer to the safe Democratic category.

Just one race is in the Likely Republican category, the open Nebraska (Sen. Ben Nelson retiring) campaign between former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D) and state Sen. Deb Fischer (R). All polling gives Fischer overwhelming leads, suggesting that the most likely outcome here is a Republican conversion.

Thirteen states are rated as safe: eight for the Democrats (CA, Feinstein; DE, Carper; MD, Cardin; MN, Klobuchar; NY, Gillibrand; RI, Whitehouse; VT, Sanders (I); and WV, Manchin), and five for the Republicans (MS, Wicker; TN, Corker; TX-open, Cruz; UT, Hatch; and WY, Barrasso).

Presidential Race Tightening

Last week’s polling is now reflecting what the national trends have been reporting for some time: The presidential race continues to get closer.

During the past week, 12 polls were conducted in nine different places, all top and secondary battleground regions. The locations are, as you would expect by this time: Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nevada, Colorado and the 2nd Congressional District of Nebraska. You will remember that Nebraska splits its Electoral Votes, thereby allowing each of the state’s three congressional districts to award their own vote. In 2008, President Obama carried the 2nd District, giving him an extra national tally. In at least one 2012 scenario, the NE-2 vote could determine the difference between a tie or a two-vote win for one of the contenders, hence it remains important. In the dozen polls pulled from these domains, President Obama leads in nine of them, Mitt Romney two, and one place, the Commonwealth of Virginia, records a tie.

Two points merit attention. First, the average distance between the two candidates from this latest myriad of polls is only 3.75 percent.

Second, the peripheral target states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Colorado and Nevada are already coming into range. Historical standards, despite the president holding small leads in almost all of these polls, suggest that Romney is actually in favorable position as a challenger.

Be cognizant of the fact that we are still in the pre-Labor Day period and that the crystallizing movement in a presidential race normally comes much later in the election cycle, usually in October. With Obama and Romney already running about even, this campaign promises to pack quite an exlplosive finish.

Presidential Paths to Victory

Today we turn our attention to the national election between President Barack Obama and former governor Mitt Romney in order to determine each candidate’s path to victory as the political map begins to evolve and change.

It is evident that are there are approximately a dozen battleground states upon which the candidates are focusing. The competitive states considered to be in this swing category include, alphabetically: Colorado (9 Electoral Votes), Florida (29), Iowa (6), Michigan (16), Nevada (6), New Hampshire (4), New Mexico (5), North Carolina (15), Ohio (18), Pennsylvania (20), Virginia (13) and Wisconsin (10).

Last year Obama advisers mapped out five different routes that would secure the minimum 270 Electoral College votes the president needs for re-election. Each path included Obama retaining some, but not all, of the swing states that he won in 2008. As we have seen through nationwide polling data, Team Obama’s strategic tenet in spreading the map as wide as possible is having some effect. Conversely, the Romney brain trust indicates that any realistic course to capturing their identified 270 votes requires them to win back historically Republican states that Obama carried four years ago, such as North Carolina, Indiana, and Virginia.

Each candidate understands the importance of winning the quintessential large swing states of Florida (29 Electoral Votes) and Ohio (18). In 2008, Obama claimed these places and is now spending heavily in hopes of retaining both. Romney advisers see Florida as their candidate’s most important swing state because there is no realistic way to score a national victory without its inclusion. Simply put, Florida’s 29 Electoral Votes are too many to replace.

Currently, several polls reveal Obama as having the edge in Ohio but a recent Gravis Marketing poll of 728 likely voters shows Romney opening up a three-point lead in Florida.

In the past few days two Great Lakes states, Michigan and Wisconsin, are showing signs of teetering toward Romney. Recent polls in both places have returned conflicting results and each candidate can point to data showing him to be in the lead. But even a split decision in August is a positive trend for the challenger.

Michigan, a traditionally Democratic state but one that turned hard for Republicans two years ago, is a place where Romney will heavily contest. A fundamental reason for the strategic decision to do so is his Wolverine State family ties. It is here where the Republican nominee grew up and the electorate twice voted for his father as governor. The Obama senior strategists scoff at the idea that Romney can win Michigan, citing his opposition to the auto bailout and recalling that Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican nominee, publicly abandoned the state some six weeks before the election.

Wisconsin, home of vice presidential running mate Paul Ryan, has been trending toward the Republicans in similar patterns to Michigan, cemented by Gov. Scott Walker’s recall election victory earlier this year. With former governor Tommy Thompson running strong in the open Senate race, the Badger State is certainly in play for a close Romney victory.

Early in the cycle we, as most other analysts, suggested that after counting Indiana returning to the Republican camp, Romney would have to carry Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Virginia, and then one more 2008 Obama state to win the presidency. While such a formula remains valid, the president’s continued performance in Ohio and Virginia suggests that Romney will not likely sweep the four core states. But, numbers coming from the aforementioned Michigan and Wisconsin, and Midwestern and western states such as Iowa, Colorado and possibly Nevada, demonstrates other Republican victory paths are now possible.

Here are the scenarios:

• If the president carries Virginia, a Wisconsin-Iowa combination is the easiest way for Romney to neutralize this Obama core state victory. The Republican would still need one more state, such as New Hampshire, where Obama consistently leads, or Nevada or Colorado to claim national victory. New Mexico, normally a swing state, appears to be currently off the table as the President continues to score double-digit polling leads.

• If Obama wins Ohio, then Romney would be forced to win Wisconsin and Colorado. Under this scenario, Michigan comes into play. Unless Romney carries New Hampshire, Nevada, or Iowa, then the Wolverine State becomes his last neutralization option.

• Should the President carry both Ohio and Virginia, then Romney could still win by taking Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Colorado or Nevada. All scenarios assume that Romney re-unites Nebraska by winning that state’s 2nd Congressional District and thus providing one more vote to his electoral column.

The overall state chart still favors the president, but the campaign’s recent fluidity suggests several new victory options are now attainable for the challenger.

The Senate Scorecard

With most of the primary season now behind us and all of the Senate match-ups in place, sans Arizona and Wyoming, it’s time to examine the national outlook.

After seeing several competitive primaries decided in the past several weeks, we now sit on the cusp of the final short sprint to Election Day with Senate control still considered to be in “toss-up” mode. As we know, 33 Senate races are standing for election in November with 11 of those seats being open due to retirement and defeat, thus giving more conversion opportunities for each side. Of the 33 Senate races, a little under half of them are considered safe for the respective incumbent and, according to our count, six of the races are rated as toss-ups (Ind., Mass., Mo., Mont., Va., and Wis.).

If the Democrats were to win all of the “lean Dem” and toss-up races, and Independent former governor Angus King clinches the Maine race and decides to caucus with them, the Senate Democrats would actually add a net of three seats to their conference, bringing the total majority number to 56. Early in the election cycle it looked extremely unlikely that the Democrats would pick up any seats, however, as this year has unfolded, more Republican-held seats have come into play and some of the Democratic seats initially thought to be potentially vulnerable like Connecticut, Washington, and Pennsylvania are all trending more solidly leftward. Democrats also are in much better shape in North Dakota, as former attorney general Heidi Heitkamp continues to perform well against at-large Rep. Rick Berg (R), who began the race as a big favorite.

Conversely, if Republicans sweep the toss-ups and “lean R” races they would have a net gain of eight seats, bringing their total to 55 seats, even if King wins and caucuses with the Democrats. Thus, 56D to 55R appear to be the extreme swing parameters for the two parties.

While most political pundits still can’t say with any certainty who is going to control the Senate come January, it is becoming obvious that the ratio will be close. Neither party has so far broken out with the kind of drive to create a sweep, and several other campaigns have unfolded differently than originally predicted. It seems when one party makes a gain or falls behind, the other experiences a similar action, thus keeping the balance between the two in check.

For example, the political climate has become better for Republican candidates in Nebraska and Florida, while Democrats are approaching lock-down positions in Connecticut and Washington.

In the Cornhusker State we see that former senator Bob Kerrey’s return to politics after a 12-year absence while living in New York City has not been well received. GOP nominee Deb Fischer consistently holds polling leads that exceed the 18-20 point range. The best poll, from a Nebraska Democratic perspective, is the June Garin Hart Yang survey that put Kerrey within 12 points of his Republican opponent.

Turning to the Sunshine State, two-term incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson, who has a substantial campaign resource advantage over his new official Republican opponent, Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14), fresh from his solid primary victory earlier in the week, has failed to establish a firm lead. Polling consistently shows this race moving much closer to toss-up status, and while Sen. Nelson maintains a slight advantage, his edge is minimal and this campaign is quickly becoming as hot as a typical Florida summer.

In Connecticut earlier this week, GOP primary voters, by an overwhelming 73-27 percent margin, again fielded their losing 2010 candidate, former wrestling company executive Linda McMahon, this time to compete against newly nominated Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5). The two are vying for retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman’s open seat. In recent polling, Murphy has opened up a strong lead when paired against McMahon. Former Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT-4) consistently polled better in general election match-ups with Murphy, but he fared poorly in his nomination battle. With President Obama sure to run well in Connecticut and thus setting the tone for the entire Nutmeg State Democratic ticket, Rep. Murphy has established himself as the clear front-runner. Seeing him fall would now be considered a major upset.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, who serves the Evergreen State of Washington, has historically not been the most popular of incumbents. Her re-election prospects have improved considerably, however, since drawing a second-tier opponent in the person of state Sen. Michael Baumgartner. The senator placed almost 26 percentage points ahead of Baumgartner in the jungle primary earlier this month. While Washington originally had the potential of becoming a competitive race, Sen. Cantwell has considerably strengthened her position and this contest is virtually out of reach for the GOP.

As Election Day draws nearer, we continue to see a Senate that is still very much in play for both parties. Right now, it appears the Democrats are safe, likely, or lean winners in 18 states, while Republicans have that same status in nine. This means the Democrats are hovering around the 48 mark and the GOP is closer to 46. Of the six toss-ups, Democrats currently hold four states and Republicans two. Remember, Democrats must defend 23 of the in-cycle seats versus just 10 for their counterparts.

Presidential Popular Vote is Even

President Obama. / Photo: The White House

A series of new presidential election polls reveals a further tightening of the campaign on the national level, though President Obama maintains a lead over Mitt Romney in the most competitive states.

The two daily tracking pollsters, Gallup and Rasmussen Reports, both give the president only a one-point national lead, 46-45 percent and 45-44 percent, respectively. Looking at an actual benchmark survey, Public Policy Polling, conducting their study (July 19-22; 1,000 registered voters) for the Daily Kos national liberal blog and the Service Employees International Union, projects a flat 46-46 percent tie.

The only national poll not showing a dead heat, taken over virtually the same time frame as PPP’s survey with an identical sample size (July 18-22; 1,000 registered voters) from Republican pollster Bill McInturff and his Democratic counterpart Peter Hart, actually stakes the president to a 49-43 percent advantage. Based upon the available data, though the polling methodology appears sound, the McInturff/Hart result appears to be an outlier.

National Public Radio released their poll of the 12 commonly viewed battleground states (conducted by the Resurgent Republic and Democracy Corps organizations, July 7-12; 1,000 voters nationwide with an oversample of 462 from the battleground states) but its aggregate result is of little consequence. Though this poll, too, shows an Obama-Romney tie at 46 percent, such a figure is virtually useless because the combined popular vote in the most hotly contested states doesn’t translate into specific electoral votes.

What is valuable are battleground voters’ perceptions and attitudes about the candidates. As we have seen for months, there is severe polarization between the two major parties. By almost a 9:1 majority, Democrats believe the president has performed well in office. Conversely, the same virtual ratio of Republicans believes he has not. Independents tend to fall more on the Republican side, slightly rating Obama’s job performance more negative than positive. Also, Independents in these states generally oppose the Obama healthcare law and, by a slight margin, believe that the Supreme Court decision upholding the law is incorrect. This could prove significant as the campaign continues to evolve.

One thing that does deviate somewhat from at least the conventional wisdom, the NPR battleground state poll does show that both candidates have a strong base. Especially for Romney, this is a change. Before, most data indicated weakness among Republicans for their presumptive nominee, but the NPR data gives both contenders right around 90 percent support within their own party voter cell sample. This finding is good news for both men.

New individual key state surveys stack up relatively well for the president in the fact that he leads in most, but in no case is his advantage more than mid-level single-digit numbers.

Rasmussen Reports gives the President a six-point, 48-42 percent advantage in Michigan. Survey USA finds a similar five-point, 48-43 percent margin for Obama in all-important Florida; and We Ask America returns similar 49-42 percent and 49-43 percent spreads (in Obama’s favor) in Wisconsin and Nevada, respectively. Magellan Strategies produced a much closer 50-46 percent Nevada model. Quinnipiac University shows a tie in Virginia, and the Civitas Institute projects Romney to a one point, 49-48 percent razor-thin edge in North Carolina. Though it’s not a battleground state, Survey USA detects only a 46-40 percent advantage for the president in liberal Minnesota, which is a surprise.

The cumulative effect of the most recent survey data makes the president and his advisers uncomfortable. These are not the type of results strong incumbents would be seeing at this point in the election cycle. It’s going to be quite a remainder of the year.