In Georgia, Democrats' last hope for preventing GOP takeover is collapsing

The polls this cycle have been cruel to Democrats. A number of surveys have given the president’s party undue hope that they could pull off the impossible on Election Day and retain control of the U.S. Senate. But, like Lucy van Pelt ripping the set football away from a rushing Charlie Brown at the very last minute, Democrats have been robbed of that intoxicating hope just as the buzz was getting good.

After abandoning the party’s nominee as determined by the voters, Democrats were thrilled by the prospect that ruby red Kansas might elect a Democrat masquerading as an independent and unseat Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS). After enjoying a consistent 10-point lead over Roberts for nearly a month in the polls, the pro-GOP national environment has caught up to Greg Orman. Though he enjoys a modest lead over Roberts, the race is now statistically tied and voters in the Sunflower State have begun to show they will hold their nose and vote for the unpopular incumbent if only to oust Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) from his position as majority leader.

Democrats were viciously treated to another infusion of confidence when a handful of polls suggested that South Dakota’s open Senate seat, long thought lost to Republicans, was becoming competitive. The party committed $1 million to buoy the chances of either of the two left-of-center candidates hoping to defeat former GOP Gov. Mike Rounds. But the Republican candidate’s apparent vulnerability was a mirage, and three of the last four polls released show him leading both his opponents by double digits.

The final callous tease which fate handed Democrats came in Georgia where the party recruited one of their best candidates this cycle. Michelle Nunn, a charismatic moderate Democrat with a legacy name, faces off against the uninspiring businessman David Perdue and, for a time, it looked like she just might buck the 2014 cycle’s prevailing GOP tailwinds. At the very least, Nunn could force the state to hold a runoff election in January if no candidate receives a majority of the popular vote, at which point all bets would be off.

For a few weeks, Nunn surged. Several public polls showed her receiving more support than Perdue and, though no survey showed her receiving the support of a majority of Peach State voters, it was clear momentum heading into November was on her side.

That momentum has nearly disappeared in the final week before the vote. The last three surveys in the field after October 16 have shown Perdue regaining the momentum and surpassing Nunn. Even Survey USA, which twice proved a leading indicator showing that Nunn had suddenly robbed Perdue of the support of Georgia voters, revealed this week that the dynamics of the race had flipped. Perdue was back on top with 48 to 45 percent as undecideds and backers of the race’s libertarian candidate settle on supporting the Republican.

Today, Monmouth University’s latest survey of the Peach State may have finally robbed Democrats of that hope to which they’ve been clinging all October. In the respected New Jersey-based pollster’s latest survey, 49 percent of voters back Perdue – a near majority – versus a disappointing 41 percent for Nunn.

That’s a bit of an outlier, no other survey of Georgia has shown Perdue surging that far ahead over his opponent, but it is consistent with a trend across multiple surveys which now shows support for the libertarian candidate in the race ebbing and Perdue benefiting.

There is some concern among the poll-watching community that Monmouth’s survey did not weight for an electorate that is likely to turn out in November.

But others with the ability to accurately parse a survey’s findings (uncharitably referred to by those ill-equipped to engage in that process as “unskewing”) suggest that Perdue’s advantage would not drop much even if the poll’s weighting was altered.

While the smart money is still backing the notion that this race will head to a runoff in January, at which point reduced turnout, collapsing enthusiasm, and the already reconstituted Congress will alter the electoral calculation in unpredictable ways, it is now possible that the Republican could win the Senate race in Georgia outright on the night of November 4. If that happens, watch Democrats quickly give up any hope of retaining control of the U.S. Senate.

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