Kavanaugh effect? Michigan now in play as Stabenow lead drops 16 points

Time to take another Senate seat out of the safe column for Democrats? A month ago, incumbent Democrat Sen. Debbie Stabenow had a massive 23-point lead over Republican challenger John James in the EPIC-MRA Poll. RealClearPolitics wrote that “there is little evidence that [James] poses a threat to Debbie Stabenow, who holds double-digit leads and is at about 50 percent in the polls.”

Today, the Detroit Free Press finds much more evidence of that threat — and perhaps for an across-the-board collapse for Democrats in Michigan:

[I]n the U.S. Senate race, where the Democratic incumbent, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, has been widely expected to enjoy a double-digit victory over Republican challenger John James, her lead is down to 7 points, the poll found. Stabenow led James by 23 points in a September poll by the same firm, EPIC-MRA of Lansing.

A significant factor in the tightening race over the last month is an uptick in the approval rating of Republican President Donald Trump and a narrowing of the voter enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats, the poll suggests.

Prior to this poll, Stabenow led by double digits in every poll during the cycle save one, a Mitchell Research poll that put her at 51% and up nine points. This new EPIC-MRA poll is the first since July in any series that puts Stabenow below 50% support. In four weeks, Stabenow has dropped seven points while James has gained nine — a remarkable charge that might indicate momentum shifting to the challenger as voters get fully engaged.

It’s not just Stabenow, however. The poll commissioned by the Free Press shows significant gains for other Republican candidates on the statewide ballot. The gubernatorial race is down to five points in a race that was significantly tighter from the start:

The Democratic leads over Republicans in the Michigan races for governor and secretary of state have shrunk to 5 and 4 points respectively, and the attorney general’s race is now a dead heat, according to a new poll commissioned by the Free Press and its media partners. …

Dynamics can change between now and Election Day on Nov. 6, but based on the latest numbers, “if it’s a Blue Wave, it’s not going to be a very big wave,” EPIC-MRA President Bernie Porn said Wednesday.

Gretchen Whitmer has led Bill Schuette throughout the race for governor, but not with the same wide gaps as Stabenow enjoyed until now. Whitmer has led by double digits in a couple of polls but hasn’t been at or above 50% in most of them. Schuette has spent most of the race in the mid-30s. The difference between the two EPIC-MRA polls is actually relatively small; the change is mostly that Schuette has picked up four points.

Interestingly, the Free Press fails to mention one potential source for this Republican resurgence. The name Brett Kavanaugh appears nowhere in their analysis, which seems exceedingly strange. Instead, the pollster gives credit to James’ TV ads for denting Stabenow’s image, raising her unfavorables eight points to 39%. The pollster even notes that “many U.S. Senate races have shifted in favor of Trump and the Republicans.”

Indeed they have, but why? One might think that the national debacle of watching Senate Democrats interrogate Kavanaugh over slang in his high-school yearbook might have something to do with the sudden correlative burst in Republican voter enthusiasm. It’s not even worth a mention?

At any rate, if this poll is accurate, suddenly Democrats have to start using resources to defend seats previously considered safe. That won’t be good news for Democrats fighting a red tide in Indiana, Missouri, Tennessee, and Montana, among other places. And it might still be very good news for John James, who deserved at least a little of the attention the national media showered all over Robert O’Rourke in Texas.