Kay Hagan (D): 51 (48)
Elizabeth Dole (R-inc): 44 (45)
Christopher Cole (L): 3 (4)
Kay Hagan has opened up a nice lead -- one that is well outside of this poll's miniscule margin of error, leading PPP's Tom Jensen to declare that Dole's "Godless Americans" attacks have "blown up in her face". Good.
In a great sign for Hagan, she leads Dole by 56-41 among early voters (63% of the sample), while Obama leads McCain by 55-45 among those who have already cast a ballot. Obama is locked in a neck-and-neck race with McCain in this state (leading by only 50-49 overall), so Hagan's strong early performance looks like it will be enough to carry her through election day. SSP is updating our rating of this race from Tossup to Lean Democratic.
Jeff Merkley (D): 49 (46)
Gordon Smith (R-inc): 42 (41)
Dave Brownlow (C): 5 (7)
That's some very nice movement for Merk. Check out the broader trends:
With Merkley pulling ahead in poll after poll, SSP is changing our rating of this race from Tossup to Lean Democratic. Smith's efforts to present a moderate profile have allowed him to survive in past elections, it increasingly seems like that won't be enough this year, especially with Democratic voter registration numbers turning this state into a darker shade of blue.
Bonus finding: Obama leads McCain by 57-38 here according to the same poll.
A few days ago, SSP changed its ratings of the Alaska and Minnesota Senate contests, but we didn't get the chance to write about these moves until now. Let's take a look.
Alaska (Stevens): Lean Democratic to Tossup
After Ted Stevens was indicted in July, we moved our rating of this race from Lean Republican to Tossup, and again a week later to Lean Democratic. However, recent polls and events at Stevens' trial are forcing us to backtrack here.
After enjoying a brief bounce in the polls with the news of Stevens' indictment, Begich's numbers have come back down to earth, with one Rasmussen poll even showing Stevens taking a marginal lead. There's no denying that Stevens is an institution within Alaska, and it's not surprising that many voters feel reluctant to dump a man who has been representing the state in Washington for 40 years.
But most unsettling to us is what appears to be a very bungled prosecution of Stevens by the Feds. Due to sheer (willful?) mismanagement, Stevens' federal prosecutors have seen key evidence been thrown out by Judge Emmet Sullivan, and stomach-turning fuck-ups like this one:
"Jurors will be instructed that the government presented evidence to those jurors that the government knew was not true," Judge Sullivan told both sides this afternoon.
It would be no shock if Stevens received a full acquittal, which would be a huge boost to his re-election chances. That turn of events might not be fatal for Begich, but it would make this race significantly harder. With the trial's outcome so uncertain, we no longer see a clear edge for Begich in this race.
Minnesota (Coleman): Lean Republican to Tossup
There's no question that Al Franken had a pretty rough summer. He was put on the defensive for income tax snafus, off-color jokes cherry-picked from his long career as a comedian, and his temperament as a radio host. Lately, though, it seems that Norm Coleman is the one on the defensive -- not only for his party label during a time of economic crisis, but also for a steady drip, drip of ethical woes (including shopping sprees at Neiman Marcus on the dime of one of his lobbyist pals).
Some recent polls have shown a lot of volatility, and the three most recent surveys all give leads of varying sizes to Franken. But one thing is also clear: Dean Barkley has emerged as a real spoiler in this race, consistently gobbling up a share of the vote in the mid-to-high teens in the polls -- and at least some polling suggests that Barkley is cutting deeper into Coleman's share of the pie than he is against Franken's.
Perhaps sensing real danger, Coleman has made the move of pulling all of his negative ads from the airwaves. It remains to be seen whether this turns out to be too little, too late, but it is an indication that Coleman feels the need for a major strategic reorientation.
GA (Chambliss) KY (McConnell) MN (Coleman) MS (Wicker)
Races to Watch:
Today's Ratings Changes:
Kentucky (McConnell): Likely Republican to Lean Republican
Thanks, it seems, in large part to the ongoing financial crisis, Kentucky's senate race has tightened dramatically in the past couple of weeks. SurveyUSA called it a three-point race and Mason-Dixon pegged the spread at just one. Meanwhile, the folks at the Rothenberg Political Report said they saw a third poll which also showed the race a dead heat.
If anger at Republicans and concerns about the economy don't abate over the next month, GOP Minority Leader Mitch McConnell may have a serious fight on his hands. While McConnell had a massive $9 million warchest at the end of June, Dem Bruce Lunsford's personal wealth (and his willingness to dig deep) can balance that out. Indeed, this is one race where we can stay financially competitive without the DSCC having to break the bank.
It's hard, in other words, to see the Republicans holding as decisive an advantage as they once held in Kentucky. (Even the presidential numbers have tightened up a bit.) But this is a race that bears watching particularly closely - Rasmussen has already thrown some cold water on it, and the blue bounce may not last. Right now, though, McConnell is sweating in a way that he simply wasn't last month, hence our decision to move this race.
Georgia (Chambliss): Likely Republican to Lean Republican
As with Kentucky, a trio of recent polls (with three-, two-, and one-point margins respectively) suggests that Georgia's senate race is tight, almost shockingly so. Our changing views of this race, though, rest on some other, deeper data as well.
For one, SUSA says that early voters have gone for Dem Jim Martin by a 61-36 margin. At the same time, while the Obama campaign may have fallen short of its goal of registering 500,000 new black voters in Georgia, Nate Silver points out that black registration has soared nonetheless. He also notes that blacks have accounted for 40% of early voters so far, well above even his optimistic (but plausible) estimate that African Americans might compose 30% of the voting electorate in the final analysis.
Yet our newfound hope for beating the odious Saxby Chambliss is tempered by the fact that, unlike in Kentucky, the DSCC will need to get involved here to seal the deal. Georgia is a big, expensive state, and the DS already has more good targets than it can reasonably handle. Finding a few mil for the Peach State won't be easy. At the same time, we don't want to get gulled by those sumptuous-looking early voting numbers. Obama leads 64-35 among early voters, but that can't be sustainable. (Again, though, Nate suggests a very close top-of-the-ticket finish in Georgia is indeed possible.)
Nevertheless, as with Kentucky, an upset has become distinctly more likely here than it was just a short while ago, and so we move this race to "Lean Republican."
Jeff Merkley (D): 45 (39)
Gordon Smith (R-inc): 46 (47)
There's been a decided shift in momentum in the last few weeks in this race: the Merkley internal poll giving him the lead (and giving Smith a catastrophic 61% disapproval rating), a panicky Smith dropping his 'nice guy' image to run sleazy attack ads, and Willamette Week pounding away at Smith on the hiring-illegal-immigrants front (with new research released today, interviewing five people who were illegals at the time of employment for the Prince of Peas).
Well, we have some confirmation from a public pollster: Rasmussen, who last month seemed to show a race slipping away from Merkley, shows a huge bounce-back for Merkley, now down just by 1. Significantly, Merkley leads 46-42 among unaffiliated voters.
We at SSP had been suspecting that where there was smoke, there was fire; with confirmation from a public pollster, we feel confident in upgrading this race to "Tossup."
The Swing State Project is moving its rating of the North Carolina Senate contest from "Lean Republican" to "Tossup".
Recent polling confirms a dramatic tightening of this race in the past month after the DSCC began unloading a series of advertisements calling into question Dole's effectiveness in Washington and her ties to Bush and "big oil". We've been waiting to see if Dole could mount an effective counter-attack against Hagan, but we still have yet to see a coherent GOP defense here. Whereas Hagan and the DSCC have chosen their narrative (Dole being an ineffective creature of Washington for the past 40 years) and are driving the message effectively and relentlessly. Dole's sliding re-elect numbers confirm the shakiness of her position.
On the national scale, most polls are indicating a tight contest -- certainly much closer than John Kerry's performance against Bush in 2004. Democrats have already added over 130,000 voters to their registration advantage over the GOP here since 2006, and Obama's ground game will be working hard to turn out the base vote. While his campaign is not favored to win the state, Hagan, with more crossover appeal as a down-home Democrat, could be poised to reap the benefits of his operation.
Dole will still be tough to beat, but we can no longer give her the edge in the face of a very effective campaign by Hagan and the DSCC.
After Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens was indicted on seven felony counts, we moved our rating from "Lean Republican" to "Tossup", and stated that we'd have to wait for more information before we could push this race further along the chart.
Not all of the dust has settled yet, but we feel comfortable enough in moving our rating of this race from "Tossup" to "Lean Democratic". Even in a vacuum, Anchorage Mayor and Democrat Mark Begich would be a very strong candidate for statewide office in Alaska, but Begich is not running in any ordinary environment; he's up against an indicted Senator whose numbers are circling the drain in the two most recentpolls.
Since Stevens' primary challengers -- all five of them -- are a feeble (if wealthy) bunch, we have to consider a primary loss or a resignation timed to allow the Alaska GOP to name a replacement to be unlikely scenarios. Stevens is a stubborn man, and he appears determined to hold out until November -- a scenario that would be a big plus for Begich.
There's still plenty of time for the situation to change (and change again), but for now, SSP is rating this race as Lean Democratic.
In the wake of Ted Stevens' indictment on seven felony counts today, SSP is moving its rating of this race from "Leans Republican" to a "Tossup".
Of all the races on our Lean R list, Alaska (along with Mississippi) was always the most ripe for moving to tossup, and Stevens' indictment was more than enough dynamite to erase many of the advantages of his 40 years of incumbency.
While it might be tempting to shift this race into the Democratic column, our move to tossup reflects the extremely unsettled nature of this race as things stand today. Stevens may or may not survive his primary; even if he does, he could legally be replaced. He could even choose to resign before then, although Uncle Ted does not seem to be the sort of fallen pol who's willing to slink off quietly into the night.
And while it does certainly feel as though Mark Begich has just been given an important boost, we feel it's important to have more information in front of us before we make any further changes.
UPDATE: AK Gov. Sarah Palin says she is not interested in replacing Stevens.