In the hard-fought battle for control of the US Senate, which is focused on a handful of contested swing-state races, the only true constant seems to be Rob Portman's dominant lead in Ohio. The Republican incumbent hasn't trailed in a single poll since April, and has sustained a double-digit advantage in Buckeyeland -- even as Donald Trump ebbs and flows in the state (he's currently back ahead by a smudge). Elsewhere, Democrats seem to be gaining, or at least holding serve, in their quest to net four seats in the upper chamber, which would constitute a 50-50 "majority" if/when Hillary Clinton wins the presidential election. One very important factor in that equation is the Nevada race, in which Republican Joe Heck had never fallen behind Harry Reid's hand-picked replacement in any public poll...until very recently. If the GOP can pick off Reid's seat, that would seriously complicate Chuck Schumer's designs on becoming majority leader. But Reid acolyte Catherine Cortez Masto has surged ahead in two of the last four polls, with the others being an exact tie, and a fresh Monmouth poll showing Heck up by three points. Cortez Masto now holds a small RCP average edge. Clinton leads in the state by roughly four points. The good news for Republicans in North Carolina is that Richard Burr's Democratic challenger hasn't bested him over six straight surveys. The bad news is that it's still far too close for comfort, especially against a liberal far outside the state's mainstream. Still, it appears as though GOP attacks highlighting her extreme ACLU position against a sex offender registry have made an impact. The issue was a hot topic at the candidates' recent debate:
In Indiana, Evan Bayh is still struggling to defend his record as an Obamacare-supporting Democrat in the US Senate, from which he retired to become a high-earning DC lobbyist -- having lied about his transition from one job to the other. He leads modestly in this race, but Republicans remain optimistic that he's quite vulnerable. Donald Trump and Hoosier Mike Pence have maintained an underwhelming lead in the state. If the Clinton campaign's new investments there help cut into that advantage, that might boost Bayh and hurt conservative Todd Young. Regardless, this isn't a helpful storyline for Evan Bayh. At all:
Missouri remains unsettlingly close for GOP Senator Roy Blunt, who's out front of his liberal opponent, but actually running behind Trump in a state where Hillary's team is committing last-minute resources. There hasn't been much noise out of the New Hampshire Senate race for awhile. Incumbent Kelly Ayotte has a small lead in the Granite State, but the most recent poll, in the field a week ago, measured a tie. The Washington Free Beacon did, however, draw attention to Democrat Maggie Hassan's "pay gap" problem (calculated using liberals' own dishonest metrics), while noting that unlike Hassan, "Ayotte pays her female employees more than her male staff members, according to Senate payroll records." Hassan has shamelessly attacked Ayotte on this point. Perhaps it's time for an attack ad showcasing the hypocrisy at play there. A fresh Pennsylvania poll from Quinnipiac shows conservative Pat Toomey up by four points in his tight re-election battle, even as Donald Trump is six points down in the state, according to the same data. Toomey now has the thinnest of leads, but polling is scattered. The last five statewide surveys have shown McGinty +4, tie, Toomey +4, McGinty +2, Toomey +4. Take your pick. As we mentioned last night, the incumbent is smartly beating the drum on Obamacare, and he's getting some help on the airwaves, too:
Finally, Florida's Marco Rubio has continued his streak of beating his empty suit, rich kid, serial fabricator of an opponent in literally every statewide survey. At their debate this week, Rubio tore Patrick Murphy's resume embellishments to shreds, leaving the Democrat "visibly flustered." And when Murphy tried to tie Donald Trump's groping problem to Rubio, the freshman Senator was ready with a counterattack to which Murphy didn't try to respond. Here's the photo Rubio references. Having mostly abandoned Murphy already, the DSCC just pulled the rest of their money out of that race -- a decision they claim to have made prior to Rubio's debate win. I'll leave you with this tidbit from National Journal's Josh Kraushaar, who got a inside peek at internal GOP numbers this week:
Sr GOP source: 7 SEN races w/in margin of error, per internals, w widespread Trump collapse. Several GOPers running 10-15 pts ahead of DT.— Josh Kraushaar (@HotlineJosh) October 18, 2016
Of the seven races, GOP candidate holds leads betw 1-3 pts in six races... Heck down a couple in NV. https://t.co/9TCJw9K9LD— Josh Kraushaar (@HotlineJosh) October 18, 2016
If Republicans' internals are accurate, they're down slightly in NV, but their candidates have tiny-to-small advantages in FL, IN, NH, MO, NC, and PA. If all of those numbers were to hold, Mitch McConnell would have himself a 52-48 majority in January. Take away Indiana, and it's 51-49. One more -- assuming Heck doesn't pull it out, which shouldn't be assumed -- and it's dead even, with Tim Kaine likely positioned to break ties. Lots of volatility, but the GOP Senate hopes remain alive. Twenty-one days. Parting thought: If the election really breaks significantly for Hillary (an eight-point win or greater), will all of the ticket-splitters measured in the public polling really, truly show up and follow through? That question must be keeping NRSC officials awake at night. Oh, and apparently the presidential race is closer in Texas than it is in Pennsylvania, yet the House probably isn't in play. What a year.