Nail Biters: New Polls Show Three Crucial Senate Races Within the Margin of Error

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Posted: Oct 29, 2018 10:25 AM
Nail Biters: New Polls Show Three Crucial Senate Races Within the Margin of Error

With just over one week to go until election day, a number of critical Senate races remain in limbo, according to a series of new CBS News polls.  The network's pollster surveyed likely voters in the battlegrounds of Arizona, Indiana and Florida, and found all three contests to be virtual dead heats.  Based on these latest numbers, Democrat Krysten Sinema has a very small lead over Republican Martha McSally out in the desert, GOP challenger Mike Braun is slightly ahead of Democratic incumbent Sen. Joe Donnelly in the Hoosier State, and the Florida Senate face-off is deadlocked in an exact tie:


If these polling outcomes end up accurately predicting electoral results, the Arizona and Indiana races would cancel each other out (with each party flipping a seat), and the Florida victor would determine whether the GOP would gain another net seat, or remain static.  Other recent surveys show either Bill Nelson leading Rick Scott by mid-single digits, or Scott ahead by a hair.  Arizona has also produced mixed polling results.  Both of those contests appear to be pure toss-ups at this late date.  Indiana, however, has been trending in Braun's direction.  Three recent polls show the Republican ahead by three or four percentage points.  With Indiana in mind, here's Allahpundit's description of the GOP's bullish assessment, given the Senate landscape:

Even more ominously for the Democratic incumbent Donnelly, in seven polls of Indiana taken since August he’s never once done better than 44 percent of the vote. Braun, by contrast, has hit 45, 46, and 47 in different surveys. Donnelly seems to have a low ceiling, with many undecided Hoosiers apparently reluctant to commit to him. That makes me think Braun is more likely to pick up late-deciders, which, if true, would mean Donnelly’s dunzo. If Braun flips Indiana, that’s 52 Senate seats. Add in Kevin Cramer’s all-but-certain win over Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota and that’s 53. If Josh Hawley holds on in Missouri to beat Claire McCaskill, which is how most pros seem to see things shaping up, that’s 54. And if Scott surprises Nelson, that’s 55(!). All of that is contingent, though, upon the GOP defending its own seats. 

AP also notes that CBS' Florida poll shows a one-point race in the gubernatorial contest, perhaps confirming that the trajectory of that race has turned a bit away from ethically-challenged and race-baiting Democrat Andrew Gillum.  In any case, the last bolded sentence in the except above is a major contingency.  Yet another poll shows Ted Cruz commanding a modest-ish but stable lead, and sitting north of 50 percent, in Texas.  Marsha Blackburn is probably still the favorite to hold Bob Corker's Tennessee seat, but I'd like to see some updated polling before declaring that one locked down.  Arizona looks like it's a coin flip, but Nevada continues to be shaping up surprisingly favorably for endangered GOP incumbent Dean Heller.  He could still absolutely lose a tight one, but his resilience and some data tilted in Heller's direction inspired one prominent national expert to slide the Silver State race into the 'lean Republican' column:


That's welcome news for Team Heller, but I'd caution that based on discussions I've had, that race still looks far too close to call. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that Democrats pick off two of the four contested Senate seats currently held by Republicans.  That would put the GOP at 49 seats.  But if Mitch McConnell's team wins two-of-three in North Dakota, Missouri and Indiana (which seems eminently achievable), we'd be back at a 51/49 red majority.  Toss in a victory or two in Montana, West Virginia or Florida -- or eliminate one of the Democratic pick-ups by prevailing in (most likely) Arizona or Nevada -- and we're looking at a net gain of at least one seat for the Republicans.  Over in the House, there are some rays of hope for Republicans seeking to hold a razor thin majority, or at least minimize the scope of Democrats' takeover.  But momentum may be moving in the opposite direction overall:

While Senate Republicans are growing increasingly optimistic about their chances of adding to their 51-seat majority, the mood among their House counterparts is deeply pessimistic. Despite an enthusiasm boost among red-state conservatives, outside GOP groups are still scrambling to protect rank-and-file members who looked in solid shape several months ago. In the last week, the Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC has spent money to protect Reps. Fred Upton in Michigan, Mia Love in Utah, Jaime Herrera Beutler in Washington, and George Holding in North Carolina. They’re trying to salvage several conservative-minded seats where Republican congressmen retired...Privately, Republican leaders expect to lose around 30 seats—and the House majority—but acknowledge that there could be a number of unexpected outcomes pushing those numbers higher on Election Night. That’s an all-too-realistic scenario given the supercharged liberal engagement in districts across the country, lackluster re-election efforts from unprepared GOP members of Congress, and impressive fundraising figures from even long-shot Democratic challengers.

Republican strategists must shudder when considering how the broader picture would be shaping up, if not for the intensely motivating Kavanaugh confirmation brawl. A fresh YouGov poll reinforces the reality that Republican voters were disproportionately fired up by that emotional and dramatic episode:


I'll leave you with this report about Sen. Lindsey Graham -- one of the GOP stars in the Kavanaugh fight -- stumping for Josh Hawley in Missouri today.  When a furious Graham told Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats that he hopes they never wield power again, it seems like he meant it; the South Carolina Republican is in the midst of a 12-state tour on behalf of Senate GOP candidates.  His stated goal is to help defeat Democrats anywhere he possibly can.  Every Senate Democrat except Joe Manchin voted against Justice Kavanaugh, and nearly all of them -- including Claire McCaskill, Jon Tester, and Bill Nelson -- also voted against Justice Gorsuch.