Rep. Kyrsten Sinema and former Governor Phil Bredesen lead in Arizona and Tennessee respectively. (AP/Ross D. Franklin/Mark Humphrey)

The Democratic Party is on track to regain control of the Senate, according to a pair of new polls

Polls reveal that Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and former Gov. Phil Bredesen are ahead in Arizona and Tennessee


Shira Tarlo
September 18, 2018 4:00PM (UTC)

The Democratic Party is on track to regain control of the U.S. Senate in this fall's midterm elections, according to the results of a pair of CNN polls released Monday.

Democratic candidates are leading in two critical Senate races in Republican strongholds. The polls reveal that Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and former Gov. Phil Bredesen are ahead in Arizona and Tennessee, respectively. The Democratic candidates are vying for two Senate seats left open by two retiring Republican Senators — Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee — who have been publicly critical of President Donald Trump.

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Sinema tops Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) by 7 points — 50 percent to 43 percent among likely Arizona voters and by a similar 48 percent to 41 percent among registered voters. The slight advantage for Sinema in the race to fill Flake's seat could partly reflect the fact that a majority of Arizona voters disapprove of the way Trump is handling his job as president, according to the poll. Sinema also leads McSally in positive favorability, although both candidates are viewed more favorably than unfavorably.

In Tennessee, Bredesen leads Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) by 5 points — 50 percent to 45 percent among likely voters and a slightly larger 52 percent to 48 percent lead among registered voters. While Trump's approval rating is much higher in Tennessee than in Arizona, Bredesen benefits from strong favorability numbers among likely voters. The Democratic candidate has a positive 52 favorable to 24 percent unfavorable rating among likely voters, while Blackburn's favorability rating among likely voters is split 41 favorable to 39 percent unfavorable, with 20 percent unsure. While Bredesen's favorability ratings are low among registered Republicans — 28 percent of them have a favorable view of him — just 9 percent of registered Democrats have a positive view of Blackburn.

"The CNN polls for Democrats in Arizona and Tennessee were rosier for Democrats than other recent polls, so it's possible that they are overstating the Democratic position – or it's possible that they are leading indicators," Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball Report, told Salon.

"Democrats need to win at least one of these two races to pull off an upset and win the Senate — and potentially both if Democrats cannot protect every single one of their 26 incumbents currently on the ballot," he explained. "These are both Republican states, although they are trending in different directions: Tennessee has been getting redder, while Arizona is becoming more of a swing state. So Arizona is probably the better Democratic target, but Democrats are very happy with Phil Bredesen's campaign and are encouraged that he has made Tennessee a real race."

With Election Day less than 50 days away — 49 days, to be exact, as of this writing — the majority of voters in Arizona and Tennessee say their minds are already made up. Still, roughly one in six voters in the two states say there is a chance they would change their mind before Nov. 6 — enough voters to impact both races.

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The CNN polls of 1,001 adults in Arizona and 1,000 adults in Tennessee were both conducted by SSRS from Sept. 11 through Sept. 15. The margin of error for total respondents in Arizona is plus or minus 3.8 percentage points. (For results among 854 registered voters, it is plus or minus 4.1 percentage points; and for results among 761 likely voters it is plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.) In the Tennessee survey, the margin of error for total respondents is plus or minus 3.6 percentage points. (For results among 852 registered respondents it is plus or minus 3.9 percentage points; and for results among 732 likely voters it is plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.)

As of this writing, FiveThirtyEight gives the Democratic Party a one-in-three chance of winning control of the Senate in November.

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Shira Tarlo

Contact Shira Tarlo at shira.tarlo@salon.com. Follow @shiratarlo.

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