A tale of two Senate races: Dems pull back in Kentucky, but spend big in Georgia

Plus: Iowa Senate race tightens, big names head to South Dakota, and Democrats retreat in House contests

Published October 15, 2014 12:47PM (EDT)

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee delivered a jolt to the contest for Senate control on Tuesday when the committee announced that it would cease advertising against Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Once seen as the most vulnerable GOP Senate incumbent, McConnell has held a modest but consistent lead over Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes in most recent polls, and the DSCC’s announcement could hardly be interpreted as anything besides a concession that the contest isn’t where Democrats hoped it would be at this point.

But even as the party retreated from Kentucky, Politico reported that the DSCC plans a $1 million ad buy in Georgia, where Republican David Perdue and Democrat Michelle Nunn are facing off to succeed retiring GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss. Most surveys in the race have given Perdue a slight lead, but his statement earlier this month that he was “proud” of his background outsourcing jobs as a corporate executive has given Democrats renewed hope of wresting Georgia from the GOP.

Two public surveys have been conducted since Perdue’s remark. A Landmark Communications poll showed a dead heat, with both candidates garnering 46 percent support. Even better news for Nunn came with the release of a Survey USA poll this morning; the poll gave Nunn a three-point edge, 48 to 45 percent. That marks the first public poll since early September in which Nunn has led.

If neither candidate wins at least 50 percent of the vote on November 4, the race is headed to a January 6 runoff. According to Politico, Nunn’s internal polls show her not only leading but edging closer to 50 percent. Nunn will want to do all she can to clear that threshold; if control of the Senate hinges on the outcome of a Georgia runoff, she may well be at a disadvantage to Perdue. Consider the results of Georgia’s 2008 Senate runoff. On Election Day, Chambliss came just short of 50 percent, winning 49.8 percent against Democrat Jim Martin’s 46.8 percent. A Martin win in the runoff would have given Democrats a 60-seat Senate supermajority, and national Republicans did everything they could to make sure that didn’t happen. Chambliss won the runoff by nearly 15 points.

Still, given Perdue’s deep flaws as a candidate, past may not be prologue this time.

In other midterms news:

  • Iowa’s Senate race continues to tighten, as independents have made a 12-point swing from Republican Joni Ernst to Democrat Bruce Braley. That’s what Quinnipiac University finds in its brand-new poll of the state, where Ernst now holds a statistically insignificant 47 to 45 percent lead, down from a 50 to 44 percent lead in Quinnipiac’s last survey. Among those who have already voted in the state, Braley leads by 14 points, 51 to 37 percent.
  • South Dakota’s unexpectedly competitive Senate race is attracting some big names to the state, the Argus Leader observes. Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin was in the state Tuesday to stump for Democrat Rick Weiland, while former GOP Gov. Mike Rounds – once expected to easily win the contest – is calling in Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and the Tea Party Express. The race also features former Republican Sen. Larry Pressler, who’s now running as an independent.
  • Control of the House hasn’t been at stake this midterm cycle, but Democrats at least hoped to knock off a few Republicans in key swing districts. But the New York Times reports that, facing political headwinds, the party has significantly dialed back its effort to wrest control of such seats from the GOP. Instead, Democrats are shifting resources toward shoring up their own vulnerable incumbents. Republicans hope to gain 11 seats, bringing them to a “governing majority” of 245 House seats, but Politico notes that most forecasters predict a net GOP gain of six to eight seats.

By Luke Brinker

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