Sen. Mitch McConnell is fighting for his political survival, but his re-election chances just got better. Over the weekend, Dan noted that the Senate Minority Leader has expanded his lead amongst likely voters over Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes by 8-points, according to the latest Marist poll; Rep. Tom Cotton in Arkansas is up 5-points over Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor, so it’s good news all around.
This chart courtesy of NYT
Additionally, even the New York Times is pretty much saying that McConnell will be re-elected, giving him a 93 percent probability that such an outcome will happen on Election Night. While McConnell has low approval ratings, he has the fundamentals and history in his favor; a candidate with a lead this late in the game is bound to win. Lastly, there’s the steady decline in Democratic support within Kentucky’s coal country (via NYT):
It should be no surprise that Mr. McConnell has opened up an advantage. A McConnell defeat would have been all but unprecedented: No incumbent senator who represents the party opposed to the White House has ever lost re-election in a state that leans as strongly against the incumbent president’s party as Kentucky does.
The inexorable decline of Democratic standing in coal country has been driven by the collapse of the national Democratic Party in this region, where environmental regulations on coal-fired power plants are deeply unpopular, as are Democratic positions on cultural issues. Like in West Virginia, Kentucky coal country first swung to the Republicans in 2000, and the G.O.P. presidential nominee made additional gains in every successive election. Mr. Obama suffered cataclysmic losses between 2008 and 2012 because of the so-called War on Coal.
The Grimes campaign probably hoped to hold up reasonably well in coal country — perhaps losing it by only five or so points, like Mr. McConnell’s Democratic challenger in 2008 — while winning unprecedented margins in Louisville’s Jefferson County and the Bluegrass Region, which stretches east from Louisville through Lexington to the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.
Just because something hasn’t happened before doesn’t mean it never can. But Ms. Grimes was trying to pave a new road to victory without the help of any fundamental population changes like the ones that helped Democrats break through in Nevada or Virginia, without the help of any issues or messages that might reshape partisanship, as coal did in coal country, and in a time when the incumbent Democratic president was deeply unpopular.
The polls make it clear that this path remains closed.
Guy posted more good news about Republican chances of retaking the Senate on Hot Air earlier today. The GOP is leading in eight senate races heading into the last weeks of the 2014 cycle. Even the New York Times’ Jonathan Martin said, “It does look increasingly likely that the GOP is going to find six," but noted that it’s not over yet for Democrats.
Over at Roll Call, Stu Rothenberg predicted that Republicans would gain seven seats this year:
While the current Rothenberg Political Report ratings don’t show it, I am now expecting a substantial Republican Senate wave in November, with a net gain of at least seven seats.
Right now, for example, the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call Senate ratings suggest Republican gains in the mid-single digits. My newsletter has the most likely outcome of the midterms at Republican gains of 5 to 8 seats, with the GOP slightly more likely than not to net the six seats it needs to win Senate control.
The combination of an unpopular president and a midterm election (indeed, a second midterm) can produce disastrous results for the president’s party. President Barack Obama’s numbers could rally, of course, and that would change my expectations in the blink of an eye. But as long as his approval sits in the 40-percent range (the August NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll), the signs are ominous for Democrats.
In 1986 — like 2006, a second midterm election — all six of the closest Senate contests were won by Democrats, including three (Colorado, California and North Dakota) where the Democrats drew less than 50 percent of the vote.
Democratic incumbents Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Begich of Alaska and Kay Hagan of North Carolina all would be headed for re-election in a “good” Democratic year, such as President George W. Bush’s second midterm, when voters were unhappy with a Republican president and Democrats constituted the alternative.
But if history is any guide, at least two of them, and quite possibly all four, will lose this year — even with all the huffing and puffing from journalists over how brilliant their campaigns have been and how weak the GOP challengers are.