Key Senate contests poised to go down to the wire

New polls show we could be in for a long election night. Brace yourselves

Published October 23, 2014 1:12PM (EDT)

With just 12 days until voters head to the polls, new surveys in some of the nation’s marquee Senate contests indicate we could be in for a long night.

In New Hampshire, where Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen faces a challenge from former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, two new polls confirm that the race has tightened. A New England College poll released yesterday finds Brown edging Shaheen by 1 point, 48 to 47 percent, while a CNN poll unveiled this morning gives Shaheen a 2-point lead, 49 to 47 percent. While these polls indicate a race within the margin of error, it’s still hard to see Brown pulling off a win. CNN’s poll finds his favorability rating underwater, with 48 percent of New Hampsherites viewing him favorably and 50 percent viewing him unfavorably. Shaheen, by contrast, boasts a 52 percent favorable rating. That discrepancy meshes with other polling results, and suggests that 48 percent is probably Brown’s ceiling of support.

Meanwhile, Quinnipiac finds this morning that Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst has a narrow 2-point lead over Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley in the race to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin. Ernst leads Braley 48 to 46 percent – essentially unchanged from her 47 to 45 percent lead in Quinnipiac’s last survey. While this race is much closer than Democrats had hoped or expected it to be at this stage, Braley backers hope that the party’s much-vaunted turnout machine pushes the congressman over the top.

Down in the Peach State, Democrat Michelle Nunn appears to have the momentum in the race to fill retiring GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ seat. Georgia Republicans nominated millionaire businessman David Perdue, and his recent gaffe about his record outsourcing jobs seems to have done real damage to his candidacy. Perdue’s lead has vanished, with every poll since his remark that he was “proud” of his outsourcing record showing a dead heat. A SurveyUSA poll released yesterday put Nunn on top, 46 to 44 percent. That won’t be enough for Nunn to win outright, though. If neither candidate reaches 50 percent on Nov. 4, the contest heads to a Jan. 6 runoff.

While Georgia is giving Democrats reason for hope in their bid to keep control of the Senate, the Senate race in Colorado looks more ominous for the party. As Salon has noted, polls in the state overstated GOP strength in 2010 and 2012, but polling averages now show GOP Rep. Cory Gardner with a clear and growing lead in his race against Democratic Sen. Mark Udall. Gardner has now led in all of the last eight independent surveys, with RealClearPolitics pegging his average lead at 4 points. A Reuters/Ipsos poll released this morning shows a somewhat closer race, with Gardner ahead 47 to 45 percent, but a USA Today/Suffolk poll showed far worse numbers for Udall yesterday. Gardner led in that survey by a 7-point margin, 46 to 39 percent. In last month’s USA Today/Suffolk survey, Gardner edged Udall by just 1 point. Statistics guru Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight now gives the Republican an 80 percent chance of victory.

In other midterms news:

  • That was fast: One week after pulling ads for Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky’s Senate race, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is back on the air, launching a $650,000 ad buy aimed at ousting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Politico reported the news Wednesday. Most surveys in the race show McConnell leading Grimes, but a Bluegrass Poll released this week showed a virtual tie, and the DSCC’s ad buy makes clear that the party still sees this as a winnable race.
  • In the Washington Post, David Fahrenthold looks at Democratic Martha Coakley’s struggling campaign to succeed Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. As in 2010, when Coakley blew a double-digit lead and lost to GOP up-and-comer Scott Brown in the race to succeed the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, Coakley has seen her clear advantage against GOPer Charlie Baker erode. Polls now show a statistically tied race. Fahrenthold attributes Baker’s strong showing to his “more upbeat tone and more moderate political positions” compared with the Republican’s unsuccessful 2010 campaign against Patrick, as well as what he calls  Coakley’s “vague populist promises.” But given that this state sent Elizabeth Warren to the Senate two years ago, it’s unlikely that a Coakley loss would signal distaste for populism in the state. Instead, it may well represent a return to Massachusetts’ norm of electing GOP governors. Three of the state’s last four elected governors have been Republicans.

By Luke Brinker

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