What's the matter with Kansas polls?

Plus: A Bayou shake-up, harassment allegations in a key House race, and a new lawsuit against Florida's governor

Published October 9, 2014 1:00PM (EDT)

Just as it appeared that Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas’ political career was headed for an ignominious end on November 4, two polls released Wednesday seemed to breathe new life into the three-term incumbent’s campaign.

First came a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll showing Roberts edging independent challenger Greg Orman, 49 to 48 percent. That result was within the poll’s margin of error, but it marked a sharp improvement for Roberts after an NBC News/Marist poll unveiled on Sunday showed him trailing Orman 10 points, 38 to 48 percent. Later Wednesday, the senator received even better news: a Fox News survey put him ahead of Orman by five points, 44 to 39 percent.

But before the Roberts camp breaks out the champagne, there are a few sobering details to consider. As FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten observes, Fox polls this cycle have demonstrated a pro-Republican “house effect” of about 3.6 percent. Under FiveThirtyEight’s model, then, Roberts’ lead in the Fox survey would be downgraded to 1.4 points – making the race a statistical tie.

Digging into the crosstabs of Fox’s poll makes it even harder to escape the impression that its results paint too rosy a picture for Roberts’ backers. The poll has Orman winning just 71 percent of Democrats, a figure that seems far too low given that the widely unpopular Roberts is even less popular among Democrats, and that former Democratic candidate Chad Taylor won’t be on the ballot.

While it’s easy to get carried away with a single poll – particularly one that breaks a recent trend – it’s far more sensible to pay attention to polling averages. In Kansas, the averages show a situation that’s somewhere between the results of the NBC/Marist and Fox News polls – i.e., a neck-and-neck contest. RealClearPolitics’ polling average, for instance, gives Orman a 2.4 percent lead over Roberts. For Orman backers who began the week thinking their candidate had a 10-point advantage, that’s a disappointing figure. But Roberts never expected to be in a race this close, and FiveThirtyEight still gives Orman a 60 percent chance of victory.

In other midterms news:

  • Whether Roberts wins or loses, the reason he’s found himself in such a surprisingly competitive contest is the widespread perception in Kansas that he’s lost touch with the state. The revelation this year that he doesn’t really live in the state did significant damage to his image, but more substantive issues also explain his precarious position. In a new piece, the Washington Post’s Paul Kane offers a trenchant analysis of how Roberts’ shifting focus from agriculture to intelligence issues in the Senate has contributed to the senator’s home-state problems. Roberts’ Intelligence Committee work, Kane writes, was “politely applauded by conservatives who support a strong defense and largely overlooked by the rest.” Meanwhile, Roberts’ de-emphasis on agriculture work left Southern senators with different crop interests as some of the most influential voices on the Agriculture Committee.
  • Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, one of the Senate’s most vulnerable incumbent Democrats this cycle, is shaking up her campaign. The Huffington Post flags a New Orleans Times-Picayune report that Landrieu has jettisoned campaign manager Adam Sullivan in favor of Ryan Berni, a close associate of James Carville. The change comes as multiple surveys show Landrieu trailing likely GOP opponent Bill Cassidy in an expected December runoff election.
  • New allegations of sexual harassment could upend a fiercely contested congressional race in San Diego. A former aide to Republican Carl DeMaio’s campaign tells Politico that DeMaio made unwanted and aggressive sexual advances at him prior to the aide's departure from the campaign. The aide, former policy director Todd Bosnich, asserts that he was offered a $50,000 nondisclosure agreement after losing his campaign job. DeMaio’s camp is denying the allegations, stating that Bosnich was fired for plagiarism and saying that Bosnich is a suspect in a May break-in at DeMaio’s offices. Polls show a tight race between DeMaio and freshman Democratic Rep. Scott Peters.
  • A new lawsuit accuses Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who’s facing a strong challenge from former Gov. Charlie Crist, of failing to disclose more than $340 million in assets. The lawsuit, filed by the Democratic attorney general candidate, claims that Scott, a former health care CEO, has hidden hundreds of millions of dollars in assets through “a complex web of investment vehicles which appears to include at least six trusts, numerous partnerships, investment funds and accounts.” Scott’s 2014 tax returns declared a net worth of at least $133 million.

By Luke Brinker

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