What's the matter with Kansas?

Republicans have reason to hope for a wave election in 2014, with Barack Obama’s approval ratings sinking to a six-year floor and Democrats defending several red-state Senate seats. That wave hasn’t washed ashore in Kansas, which one would normally expect to be reliably Republican in the current environment. Republicans even have incumbents running for both the gubernatorial and Senate seats, which should make it an easy hold. According to a new Survey USA poll, though, it looks like both Republican incumbents are in trouble:

Despite primary wins 3 weeks ago for both top-ticket incumbent Kansas Republicans – Governor Sam Brownback and U.S. Senator Pat Roberts – and despite Kansas being a reliably Red State, both Brownback and Roberts face tough re-election fights for the 11/04/14 general election, according to the latest exclusive KSN-TV poll, conducted by SurveyUSA.

In the contest for Governor, the Republican ticket of Brownback and Jeff Colyer continue to trail the Democratic ticket of Paul Davis and Jill Docking, consistent with 2 previous KSN polls conducted before the 08/05/14 primary. Today, it’s Davis 48%, Brownback 40%. Brownback holds 70% of the Republican base, compared to Davis, who holds 91% of the Democratic base. Independents break 4:3 Democratic, a troubling sign in a state such as Kansas, where Republicans often count on right-leaning independents to cushion their victory margins. More troubling, moderates break 7:2 against the incumbent, an unusually large margin in any state, in any contested race. Democrat Davis leads in all 3 regions of the state: by 10 points in greater Wichita, by 8 points in greater Kansas City KS, and by 4 points in Greater Topeka. Among men, where Red State Republican incumbents often lead by 10, 15 or 20 points, Brownback trails by 1. Brownback trails in every age group. SurveyUSA’s most recent KSN poll, on 07/22/14, also showed Davis 8 atop Brownback. A 06/23/14 KSN poll showed Davis 6 atop Brownback.

Voters split on which issue is most important in the Governor’s contest: those who say “tax rates” are most important break by 26 points for Brownback. Those who say “education” is most important break by 43 points for Davis.

This doesn’t look like an outlier, either. The RCP poll average for this summer has Brownback down by almost 3 points, within the MOE, but that’s before the Survey USA poll gets added to the mix. Three of the four polls in the current average have Davis up by five or more points; the only reason that the RCP average is as close as it is comes from an outlier CBS/NYT/YouGov poll that put Brownback up 12, 52/40. Davis wins every age demo, every income demo, and has a ten-point lead among independents. An incumbent stuck at 40% in a three-way race is only a little bit less disastrous than being at 40% in a two-way race.

It’s only looking better in the Senate race because no one gets to 40% in a four-way race:

In the contest for United States Senator, Independent Greg Orman continues to make life difficult for both 3-term Republican Roberts and his Democratic challenger. Today, it’s Roberts 37%, Democrat Chad Taylor 32%, Orman at 20%, and Libertarian Randall Batson at 4%. These results are largely consistent with SurveyUSA’s most recent KSN poll, conducted before the 08/05/14 primary, which also showed Roberts 5 points atop Taylor. In its 3 looks at the 11/04/14 general election, SurveyUSA had Orman at 7% on 06/14/14, at 14% on 07/22/14, and at 20% today. Orman siphons votes across the board. He gets 20% of conservatives, 24% of moderates and 17% of liberals. Roberts holds just 62% of the Republican base. Taylor holds 74% of the Democratic base. 38% of independents, a plurality, vote for Orman, who, among Independents beats both Roberts and Taylor. Some comfort for Roberts: he leads in all 3 regions of the state, though he has less than 40% support in every Kansas corner. Roberts breaks 40% among those with a high-school education, but fails to break 40% among the more educated. Roberts fails to break 40% among any income group.

The independent vote is handicapping Roberts in a big way. It’s difficult to see how Milton Wolf would have done appreciably worse in this case, and he might have held the Republican base together better. Roberts does lead the RCP average by eight points, and was up 43/39 in the PPP poll taken at mid-month, but that’s not a big advantage this far from the election for an incumbent.  Bear in mind that the D/R/I in this poll is 32/46/18, so even with a 14-point advantage in the sample, neither Republican does particularly well.

The GOP may have a big night at the polls, but Kansas may turn into an unpleasant surprise — and it might cost them a Senate seat to Democrats they can’t afford to lose, if Orman continues to drag away Republicans from Roberts.