For nearly a decade, Republicans considered Claire McCaskill as the easiest Senate Democrat to defeat as Missouri trended ever redder. McCaskill outfoxed them in 2012 after getting GOP primary voters to choose Todd Akin, who then self-destructed on the campaign trail. This time around McCaskill faces a formidable opponent in Josh Hawley, but in a flurry of three fresh polls out this morning, the incumbent still seems to be hanging on — and even leading in one of them.
Let’s start with the bad news from NBC/Marist:
Middle column is RVs, rightmost column is LVs. McCaskill leads in both the two-person and full-field polls among LVs, improving her September performance substantially in the former. She also hits the magic 50% number that incumbents need to achieve ahead of an election. However, this is still within the margin of error, which is an astounding ±5.2% for a poll this close to an election. Basically, this is just a depiction of a dead heat from a smallish sample of 600 likely voters.
The other two polls have significantly larger samples, and both show Hawley ahead. Emerson has Hawley up three points with an MoE of ±3.8%, technically another dead heat:
— Emerson Polling (@EmersonPolling) November 5, 2018
The largest sample comes from the Republican pollster Trafalgar Group, which has consistently had Hawley ahead this cycle. In a weeklong survey that finished yesterday and collected nearly 1800 responses from likely voters, Hawley leads 48/44 with a ±2.3 MoE — a significant lead, if you trust the source.
Trafalgar provides the most data of the three, and it has a few surprises. For one, Hawley’s lead is even larger (5.1 points) if leaners aren’t added into the mix, which suggests that McCaskill’s support is softer and might be a little less inclined to turn out. The sample may slightly overstate female participation; it has a split of 55.4/44.6, while in 2016 the exit polls showed it at 53/47. McCaskill only has a two-point-plus lead among women over Hawley, so an overrepresentation there hurts a bit more, especially when she trails among men by ten points.
The big problem here, though, is that it’s still this close. Republicans have had six years to tee up McCaskill for this moment, and finally got the serious nominee they wanted for the job after winning the state by nearly 19 points two years ago. It’s either a testament to McCaskill’s survival skills or just flat-out crazy that she’s still competitive for this election, but there seems little doubt that she is. Competitive, that is.