Hmmm: New Senate poll shows Democrat leading by seven -- in Montana

I’m skeptical, but only because of blind faith that Montana is and forever shall remain a red state, never mind that the current governor and one of the state’s two senators is a Democrat. Oh, and because of this tweet from CNN elections expert Harry Enten:


Is it possible that a Democrat is leading by seven points in a statewide race in Montana? Well, Democrat Jon Tester has been elected to the Senate no fewer than three times there. Granted, he had the good luck to run those races in three Democratic “wave” years and he never won by more than four points. But Montanans clearly are willing to go blue.

By seven points, though? Normally I’d say no — but the Democrat running against Republican Steve Daines this year is no random joe.

A new poll from Montana State University shows Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock leading Republican Sen. Steve Daines by seven percentage points in Montana’s high-profile 2020 U.S. Senate contest.

The online poll, which surveyed 738 Montanans in mid-to-late April, asked registered, likely voters who they would support, if the election for Senate were held now. Just over 46 percent said they’d choose Bullock and 39 percent supported Daines

President Trump led Democrat Joe Biden, but only by 5.6 percentage points – 45.3 percent to 39.7 percent. About 10 percent said they would vote for someone else and 5 percent said they were undecided.

I’d never guess that Daines, who had a respectable 47/31 job approval rating at the end of last year, would be running behind Trump in the middle of a killer pandemic and economic collapse. But consider their respective opposition. Biden is a generic Democrat and generic Democrats aren’t going to win Montana. Bullock isn’t generic: He’s the twice-elected incumbent governor running at a moment when governors are the most popular political figures in America. His approval rating on responding to the pandemic stood at 70/22 in this poll versus just 53/39 for Trump. He was a dangerous opponent for Daines before the coronavirus crisis boosted the visibility of governors. Now he’s potentially lethal.


If Bullock is for real, the GOP’s margin for error in holding the Senate majority this fall is near-zero. Enten, in fact, believes Democrats are now slightly favored:

An early look at the data finds that Democrats are the slightest of favorites to take back the Senate. The chance Democrats net gain at least 3 seats is about 3-in-5 (60%), while the chance they net gain at least 4 seats is about 1-in-2 (50%)…

Democratic chances have risen since I first looked at the map a year ago, in large part because the national environment continues to look good for them. They hold about an 8-point lead on the generic ballot. That’s about the same as it was in 2018, when it was 7 points, and about double what it was in 2016. Based on past trends, this large advantage suggests that races that may look like tossups right now are forecasted to move toward the Democrats over the course of the year…

Republicans have about a 7-in-10 to 3-4 shot (70% to 75%) in Kansas, Iowa and Montana. Although Democrats aren’t likely to win any of these seats individually, their chance of winning any one of the three is higher.

If Biden beats Trump, Democrats need to net only three seats to have control of a 50/50 chamber. That means four pick-ups (assuming Doug Jones is a goner in Alabama), and right now there are four races for Republican-held seats in which Dems are leading by either a little or a lot. In Maine, Sara Gideon is up 2.5 points on Susan Collins and raised more than twice as much money as Collins did in the first quarter. In Colorado, which broke for Hillary four years ago and has been trending blue, Cory Gardner is widely assumed to be an underdog against former Gov. John Hickenlooper. He trailed by double digits in a poll taken there last year and was outraised by the Democrat in the first quarter as well. In Arizona, Mark Kelly appears to be running away with his race against Martha McSally. He leads by an average of eight points in polls and nearly doubled McSally’s fundraising haul in the first quarter.


Then there’s North Carolina. Not great:

That’s a Daily Kos poll so feel free to ignore it, but left-leaning PPP had Cunningham up seven in a poll taken a few weeks ago and a Meredith College poll taken in late April found Cunningham ahead by nine. Lotta sizable Cunningham leads turning up in the data lately.

That’s four seats poised to flip, not counting Bullock’s lead in the new Montana poll. And the map could expand further. A PPP poll of Iowa published yesterday found Joni Ernst’s lead down from six points in December to one point now. It’s not hard to spot the problem: With even Trump’s campaign detecting erosion in his numbers in battleground states, downballot Republicans are at risk. Time for them to practice some social distancing from Trump, writes Josh Kraushaar:

Here’s what I’m hearing from smart GOP strategists now: Republicans should be talking about their work to help their communities in the wake of the pandemic, and avoid referencing President Trump’s role in managing the crisis. To win battleground Senate seats that are looking more tenuous, it will be crucial to maintain support from some Trump-skeptical independents. If Trump’s political condition doesn’t improve by the fall, prepare to talk about keeping the Senate as a check against Democratic power, even if it means acknowledging the presidency is likely lost.

Similar advice about not mentioning Trump was given before the midterms. I don’t understand what that was supposed to look like then and I don’t understand what it’s supposed to look like now. A conventional president who was unpopular and under the gun for his handling of a national crisis would recognize that he’s hurting the party and lie low. Trump isn’t conventional. He’d never accept that he’s hurting the GOP — look how long it took aides to convince him to dial back the daily coronavirus briefing — and even if he did, his need for camera time would overwhelm that concern. Martha McSally could spend the rest of the campaign doing a “Donald who?” routine on the trail and Trump will simply burst through the wall intermittently like Kool-Aid Man to remind everyone. If anything, perceptions that endangered Republicans are showing “disloyalty” by inching away from him might annoy him to the point where he’ll start rage-tweeting about them. That would make Republicans’ problem even worse, with the base suddenly angry at Senate incumbents for abandoning the president and swing voters angry at them for the state of the pandemic and the economy. McConnell had better figure something out soon.


Anyway, let’s not put much stock in the Montana poll yet. Not only does Enten have his doubts about its methodology, so does GOP pollster Logan Dobson per this thread. It’s probably enough to say that the state is in play amid a national climate that doesn’t look encouraging for Republicans.

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Salena Zito 12:00 AM | February 27, 2024