Bad vibes: CNN shows Dems leading Senate races in Tennessee, Arizona

Not by one or two points either. The lead in Tennessee is five while the lead in Arizona is seven.

Both states are supposed to be gimmes for the GOP, but CNN notes that each happens to be the home of a vocal Trump critic in the Senate who’s now retiring. Tennessee is Bob Corker country whereas Arizona is the home of Jeff Flake. I wonder how many Trump-skeptic Republican voters in each state have taken the senators’ criticisms of POTUS to heart and concluded that the best message they can send to the White House is to cross over and vote Democratic this fall. “Not many!” you might say. Right, probably not many. But in a tight race it doesn’t take many to make a difference.

Note Trump’s job approval in each state as well.

In Arizona, Sinema tops Republican Rep. Martha McSally by 7 points, 50% to 43% among likely voters, while in Tennessee, Bredesen holds a 5-point edge over Rep. Marsha Blackburn, 50% to 45% among likely voters there. Roughly 1 in 6 voters in each state say there’s a chance they’ll change their mind before Election Day…

Arizona has been a Democratic target for some time on account of its changing demographic profile, though the state hasn’t voted for a Democrat in major statewide elections since Janet Napolitano’s turn as governor in the Bush years. Tennessee has generally moved away from its more Democratic-friendly past. Those differences are readily apparent in the two states’ impressions of President Donald Trump in the new polls. In Tennessee, likely voters are about evenly split on the president’s performance, 49% approve and 48% disapprove, far outpacing his nationwide approval rating in the latest CNN polling of 36%. In Arizona, by contrast, Trump fares only slightly better than his national number, with 39% of likely voters saying they approve of the way he’s handling his job while 57% disapprove.

A Republican president being -18 in job approval in the land of Goldwater is … hoo boy.

If you’re looking for reasons to downplay the numbers here, I’ve got you covered. Fox News also polled both races recently and found better (well, somewhat better) results for Republicans. Fox had the Blackburn/Bredesen race at 47/44 for the Republican, good news given that Tennessee flipping blue would mortally endanger the GOP’s Senate majority. The wrinkle is that the polling there has been see-sawing for the better part of two months, sometimes with Bredesen up three or four points, sometimes with Blackburn up by similar margins. Average it all out and you get Bredesen ahead by a scant 0.3 points, and that’s without the new CNN data being averaged in. His lead will climb once it is. The optimistic view of a toss-up/narrow Dem lead here is that, in a reliably red state, late deciders will probably come home and favor the Republican, handing Blackburn the win. But that’s pure gut instinct; you could also cough up a theory that, in a national climate strongly favoring Team Blue, late deciders might opt for change instead.

Arizona is more worrisome, and not just because its demographics are trending bluer than Tennessee’s are. Again, this doesn’t include the new CNN numbers showing Sinema up seven:

There’s an optimistic and pessimistic view of those trends too. Optimistic: McSally trailed Sinema over the summer because the contested GOP primary between her, Kelli Ward, and Joe Arpaio was splitting Republican voters. Now that McSally’s the nominee, Republicans are coming home. You’re seeing the evidence right here, with a sudden McSally surge at Sinema’s expense over the last two weeks. Pessimistic: McSally not only trails by seven in today’s CNN poll, she trailed by the three in the next most recent poll, from Fox. It may be that the McSally surge was a fleeting thing, a burst of support for the newly crowned Republican nominee with McSally now slipping behind again as the dust settles.

And there’s another possible factor: Arizona is not just Goldwater country, it’s McCain country. There’s reason to believe that Trump’s snubbing of McCain damaged his national job approval numbers a bit. If that’s true, imagine how much deeper the damage is in McCain’s home state. Trump’s 39/57 job approval there may be a “McCain effect” in action, with Sinema reaping the benefits from a small but significant number of GOP voters who admired Maverick and want to stick it to Trump. If I were McSally, I’d be begging Cindy and Meghan McCain to hit the trail for me.

Here’s the national Senate state of play from RCP, by the way:

There ain’t a lot to like there when you remember the Senate map this fall is extremely favorable to the GOP, with electoral battles being fought almost entirely on Republican-friendly turf. The only Republican with a lead of more than 1.6 points is Ted Cruz, who’s clinging to a three-point lead — in Texas. If Trump’s numbers worsen, if there’s a backlash to the Kavanaugh process, if the next few jobs reports are bad (insert your own worst-case scenario here), you can imagine Democrats running the table, sweeping every battleground state. Fortunately, that remains a heavy lift — so much so that if every race were to go the way RCP expects it to today, Republicans would actually gain a seat in the Senate overall, increasing their majority to 52/48. All righties need is for all of those one-point or so leads currently held by GOP candidates to hold. Gulp.