Cory Gardner (AP)

Midterms Digest: A razor-thin contest for Senate control

What the latest polls say. Plus: Michelle Obama's latest foray into the midterms, and bad numbers for Sam Brownback


Luke Brinker
October 6, 2014 7:15PM (UTC)

A batch of new polls released this weekend confirmed that with just 29 days until Election Day, the fight for control of the U.S. Senate is up in the air.

The polls, from NBC News/Marist and CBS/New York Times/YouGov, reinforce the conventional view that while the Senate is not yet a lost cause for Democrats, their path to victory is far narrower than that enjoyed by Republicans.

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A notable bright spot for Democrats is Colorado, where the CBS/New York Times/YouGov poll found incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Udall edging GOP challenger Cory Gardner, 48 to 45 percent. There’s no doubt that Udall has a fight on his hands, but the poll marked a departure from a string of recent surveys showing Gardner ahead.

The fiercely contested race to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, meanwhile, remains as close as ever, and the latest polls in the state bring both good news and bad news for Democrats. The good news? The CBS/New York Times/You Gov poll gave Democrat Bruce Braley a tiny lead over Republican Joni Ernst; while his 44 to 43 percent edge is within the poll’s margin of error, it’s the first time in nearly a month a poll has found Braley ahead. NBC News/Marist’s poll also found a close race, with Ernst holding a statistically insignificant 46 to 44 percent lead. After polls showing Ernst with leads of six and nine percent, the latest surveys reassure Democrats that the race is not out of reach. The bad news for the party? Close as the contest may be, this wasn’t a race they thought they’d have to worry about heading into the 2014 cycle. And both polls make clear that a GOP pickup remains a very real possibility here.

Surveys elsewhere dovetailed with what we already knew about the Senate landscape. Republicans remain clear favorites to pick up Democratic-held seats in West Virginia, South Dakota, and Montana, while the GOP has the momentum as it tries to oust Democratic incumbents in Alaska, Louisiana, and Arkansas.

If Republicans sweep those races, they’ll be well on their way to a Senate majority. The party needs a net six pickups to control the chamber, and Kansas appears to be the only seriously endangered GOP-held seat. NBC News/Marist’s poll brings particularly bad news for Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, whom they find trailing independent Greg Orman by 10 points, 48 to 38 percent. CBS/New York Times/YouGov, though, shows a deadlocked race, with both candidates at 40 percent.

Other states that Democrats hoped to wrest from the GOP appear unlikely to go blue this year; the CBS/New York Times/YouGov poll shows Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky leading Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes by six points, while GOPer David Perdue leads Democrat Michelle Nunn by four points in Georgia, marking the sixth consecutive poll in which Perdue has led.

The bottom line? If Republicans win the six Democratic-held seats where they currently boast an advantage, they can afford to lose Kansas as long as they win either the Iowa or Colorado contest, or manage to win in North Carolina, where Sen. Kay Hagan has maintained a steady but far from insurmountable lead in recent surveys. With multiple paths to Senate power, the GOP indisputably finds itself better-positioned than the Democrats, but with so many battlegrounds so close, a Republican Senate is not a foregone conclusion.

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In other midterms news:

  • First Lady Michelle Obama will be in Des Moines on Friday to stump for Bruce Braley, the Des Moines Register reports. Along with Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Braley is the only Democratic Senate candidate likely to campaign in person with Obama ahead of the midterms, according to the New York Times. The first lady campaigned with Michelle Nunn in Georgia last month.
  • Kansas’ supply-side experiment continues to prove itself a failure, the Kansas City Star’s Yael T. Abouhalkah notes. Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax cuts led to a $300 million revenue shortfall between April and June, and despite Brownback’s pledge that the state would soon find itself in the black, “ income tax receipts are more than $53 million below predictions from July-September in the new fiscal year,” Abouhalkah reports. The latest figures are unwelcome news for Brownback’s flailing re-election campaign.

Luke Brinker

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