Polling avalanche: GOP leads in eight races for Democrat-held Senate seats

Jim Geragthy, acclaimed author and National Review’s chief campaign analyst, has been grousing about the lack of quality polling in key Senate races this year. His frustration is well-founded.  So yesterday must have felt like Christmas in September for Jim and political junkies everywhere, as two pollsters released a deluge of surveys covering the most contested races in the country.  In light of the results, I’d expect that national Republicans are kicking off the week with an extra spring in their step, as well.  We were leaked an advance copy of last week’s much-anticipated Politico/GWU Battleground poll, which was packed with more than a few hopeful morsels for conservatives. This weekend’s polling volley applies those national trends to roughly a dozen contests across the 2014 Senate landscape — the contours of which I outlined here.  An overview of the fresh data:

Alaska: Accurately polling this state is infamously difficult, but the new New York Times/CBS News/YouGov poll shows a stark reversal in the race, with Republican Dan Sullivan now leading incumbent Sen. Mark Begich by six points — 45 to 39, including leaners.  The Begich campaign is still reeling from a furious backlash over their desperate TV ad that falsely tied Sullivan to a terrible case involving child rape and a double murder.  The family of the victims demanded that Begich pull the ad, with Sullivan slamming the spot for being factually inaccurate.  Begich has voted with President Obama 97 percent of the time, according to a Congressional Quarterly analysis.

Arkansas: Three new polls out of this race, one of which Jazz covered yesterday.  NBC/Marist finds Republican challenger Tom Cotton leading Sen. Mark Pryor by five points, 45-40, among likely voters.  NYT/CBS/YouGov shows Cotton up four (with leaners), 43-39.  CNN puts Cotton ahead by two, though he trails Pryor among the broader electorate of registered voters in the survey.  Pryor raised eyebrows by airing an ad touting Obamacare, though the spot failed to mention the law by name.  The president and his signature law are deeply unpopular in the state. Pryor supports Obama 90 percent of the time.

Colorado: According to a pair of new data sets, Republicans still have some work to do in this race, with challenger Cory Gardner trailing Sen. Mark Udall by three and six points in the NBC/Marist and NYT/CBS/YouGov polls, respectively.  Other polling has shown the race to be a dead heat.  Gardner is running a smart, energetic and disciplined campaign, performing well in Saturday’s first head-to-head debate.  Here’s the post-debate lede from a local paper:

U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner talked rapidly and aggressively Saturday night in the Republican’s effort to unseat U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, and at times the incumbent’s slower, deliberate answers came across like he was a deer caught in the headlights.

This is a pretty solid quip from Gardner when Udall sarcastically played the victim card, wondering aloud which national problems he hasn’t caused in his opponent’s eyes:

Gardner is struggling a bit among independents, a rarity among battleground state Republicans this year.  Peeling off support from that group will be a focus for his campaign over the coming weeks.

Iowa: The battle over the Hawkeye State’s open seat remains a pure toss-up.  The new NYT/CBS/YouGov poll shows Democrat Bruce Braley in front of Republican Joni Ernst by just two points (44/42) including leaners.  Excluding leaners, Ernst has a small lead.  Republicans have been hammering Braley over his on-camera remarks disparaging farmers and demeaning popular Sen. Chuck Grassley at an out-of-state fundraiser with fellow trial lawyers.  They’ve also highlighted Braley’s poor attendance at House Veterans Affairs Committee meetings; Ernst is a Lt. Colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard.  Iowa has never elected a female senator, governor, or member of Congress.  Interesting data point:

Louisiana: Sen. Mary Landrieu’s on the ropes.  The NYT/CBS/YouGov poll shows the incumbent behind Republican Bill Cassidy by two points, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.  The survey also measured significant support for Cassidy’s more conservative (and fairly distant) Republican challenger, who will be on November’s “jungle primary” ballot.  When you combine the two GOPers’ support, this is what you get:

Those figures swell to 48-36 including leaners.  Worse for Team Mary, the poll was taken in late August and the first few days of September, so these results don’t fully reflect the embarrassing residency controversy that has snowballed since the tail end end of last month.  Landrieu votes with President Obama 97 percent of the time.

Michigan: Republican Terri Lynn Land leads Democrat Gary Peters by the narrowest of margins (43/42) in the fight over Sen. Carl Levin’s soon-to-be-vacant seat.  Land enjoys a double-digit advantage with independents.

New Hampshire: Scott Brown, who is heavily favored to win tomorrow’s GOP primary, has some catching up to do in the general election race.  According to NYT/CBS/YouGov’s stats, he’s down six to Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, though two other recent polls have the margin within three points.  New Hampshire has been hit especially hard by Obamacare, approval ratings for which are deep underwater in the Granite State.  The same applies to the president, with whom Shaheen votes 99 percent of the time.

North Carolina: It’s Republican Thom Tillis by a hair (43/41) over Sen. Kay Hagan in the NYT/CBS/YouGov poll, right in line with most polling of the race.  Hagan turned in a poor debate performance last week, during which she unsuccessfully tried to plead ignorance when confronted with Obamacare’s failures.  The GOP is bludgeoning her 96 percent pro-Obama voting record, a critique she’s richly earned.  In 2008, she pounded away relentlessly at her Republican opponent’s 92 percent pro-Bush voting record.

Republicans remain poised to net three additional open seats with relative ease, holding commanding leads in Montana (16 points), South Dakota (14 points) and West Virginia (24 points) — where Shelley Moore Capito is on the brink of becoming the state’s first Republican Senator since the 1950’s, and its first-ever female Senator of any party.  The two most closely-watched Senate races for GOP-controlled seats appear to be inching toward the “safe” category for Republicans.  David Perdue leads Michelle Nunn by six points in Georgia, while Mitch McConnell is ahead of Alison Lundergan Grimes (47/42) in Kentucky.  NBC’s new poll shows McConnell opening up an eight-point lead in the race; CNN’s recent poll gave the Senate Republican Leader a four-point edge. Big picture, Republicans appear favored — for now — to retain all of the seats they currently control; they’re also leading, at least nominally, in eight contests for Democrat-held seats.  Plus, they’re very competitive in at least three others.  The GOP needs to net six seats to regain control of Congress’ upper chamber in November.  If the current polling snapshot were to hold up (a big if, of course), Harry Reid would be facing a demotion.

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