Kay Hagan was one of the most vulnerable Democratic senators coming into this election cycle, and Republicans sensed a great opportunity to take a seat away from the Democrats. Yet Thom Tillis, the Republican nominee, hasn’t been able to take advantage and pull ahead. In fact, Hagan has managed to maintain a small but steady lead – including in a new poll by Marist/NBC News that has her leading 44-40%, and a Yougov poll that shows her with a 46-45% lead (when include “leaners”). Hagan had a negative public approval rating in July, with 40% approving and 50% disapproving, and although that has improved somewhat for her, she’s still in negative territory. She’s been helped a lot by mistakes from Tillis. The speaker of the state House of Representatives has had subpar fundraising – caused in part by a summer spent distracted with problems in the state legislature. The legislature itself is pretty unpopular, so being a member of it doesn’t help Tillis. There is still a month left, so we’ll see if Tillis can close the gap before election day.
Here is my list of some of the top 2014 GOP campaign ads so far. But keep in mind that this is a subjective list. Some of them reportedly played a large part in helping a candidate win a primary or take the lead in polls, but I have not tried to objectively measure how much they helped, nor am I sure how one would do that.
Squeal (Joni Ernst, Senate candidate in Iowa)
Although all the GOP candidates talked about cutting spending, Ernst made it memorable. This helped her stand out and win her primary.
Home (Mitch McConnell, Senator from Kentucky)
McConnell is already leading, but this touching new ad may help him close the deal with Kentucky voters.
Already Fighting for Oklahoma (James Lankford, Senate candidate in Oklahoma)
This ad helped inoculate Lankford, a member of the House of Representatives, against charges that he is a Washington insider by turning his House membership into a positive.
Has My Back (Nikki Haley, Governor of South Carolina)
Haley has a number of effective ads touting her record, but this touching ad is probably the best.
Nice Guy (Cory Gardner, Senate candidate in Colorado)
This ad was so effective, Democrats immediately tried to decry it as a nasty attack on Udall’s family.
Coach (Mike McFadden, Senate candidate in Minnesota)
McFadden is probably fighting a lost cause against Al Franken, but this was an interesting and rather memorable ad.
Anthem (Scott Walker, Governor of Wisconsin)
Walker kicked off his reelection campaign with this ad touting his record.
Here is an update on some significant recent polls on political races around the country.
First, a CNN poll in North Carolina showed Republican nominee Thom Tillis still trailing incumbent Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan by a narrow margin. This race so far has been one of the more disappointing races for the GOP, as Hagan’s unpopularity offers a prime opportunity to pick up this seat. But there is still time for Tillis to turn it around. One possible complication is the Libertarian’s third party candidate, who is probably taking votes from Tillis.
(R) Tillis 43% (D) Hagan 46% (L) Haugh 7%
Second, a University of New Hampshire poll found incumbent Republican Governor Paul LePage within the margin of error against his Democratic opponent – trailing by only 2%. Here, an independent candidate is complicating things for Democrats, just as he did in 2010 – the only way a Tea Party conservative like LePage has a chance to win in a blue state like Maine.
(R) LePage 38% (D) Michaud 40% (I) Cutler 12%
Third, a South Dakota poll showed Republican candidate Mike Rounds with a double-digit lead over two opponents. Rounds does not have as much support as one would like to see, but the lead is solid.
(R) Rounds 39% (D) Weiland 26% (I) Pressler 24%
Fourth, a PPP poll confirms a new development in the Iowa Senate race – Republican Joni Ernst has slipped slightly ahead, a huge development for the GOP if it holds. The poll shows a narrower margin than the poll released on Saturday by the Des Moines Register which shows Ernst up by 6 points.
(R) Ernst 44% (D) Braley 42%
Mark Udall must really be feeling the pressure in Colorado.
Udall’s campaign has been decrying a new ad from his opponent Cory Gardner. “To go after my late father…that’s just low,” he said. Other Democrats have taken up the cry. “It’s disgusting…beneath a candidate running for the Senate…Gardner should apologize to Sen. Udall and his family and pull the ad.”
Here is this terrible, low-down attack ad:
Oh my! “My opponent is a really nice guy.” What a disgusting insult! “His dad ran for President”. What a horrible charge! Unthinkable!
Nonsense. Democrats are clearly feeling the heat here. They’ve been blasting Garder for months, attacking him as indifferent or even hostile to women (talk about despicable attacks!), drawing on the “war on women” line that they’ve used before. And it doesn’t seem to be working. Gardner has led in the last five polls. For an attack ad, this one is very mild. In fact, it’s a very good ad, attacking his opponent while looking nice himself. The danger in attack ads is that it will also drive up the negative rating of the candidate airing the ad, because although voters respond to negativity by viewing the “attackee” more negatively, they don’t like negativity and so view the attacker more negatively as well. This one does a good job avoiding that danger, and Udall’s campaign knows it.
You can donate to Gardner’s campaign here.
With a little over a month until the 2014 midterm elections, the battle to control the Senate is in full swing. Currently, the Democrats have the majority in the Senate, with 53 Democrats, 45 Republicans, and 2 independents who caucus with the Democrats, giving the Democrats an effective majority of 55-45. So the Republicans need to take 6 seats to win the majority. Luckily, there are some things that favor the GOP this time around.
There are 36 seats up for election this year; the Democrats hold 21 of them and the Republicans 15. This means the Democrats have more ground to defend. Furthermore, the opposition party often does well in midterm elections, especially during a President’s 6th year, as dissatisfaction with the President leads to a backlash against his party. And President Barack Obama’s approval ratings are particularly low: he’s been struggling to keep his approval rating above 40%.
The GOP is practically certain to win 3 seats from the Democrats: Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia. All three seats are “open” seats, meaning that the incumbent is retiring. All three are also in conservative states where the Republican Party has the advantage, and the GOP has produced good candidates with strong leads in the polls.
With those 3 in hand, the GOP is at 48, and needs 3 more. There are 11 competitive races this year that will determine the outcome. First, the 3 that Democrats hope to take from the GOP:
Kentucky: This seat is held by Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. He has always been unpopular even in his conservative state, but Democrats haven’t yet managed to take advantage, and while the race remains competitive, they probably won’t this year, either. No poll has shown the Democratic nominee – Secretary of State Alison Grimes – with a lead since early June. Polls have been consistently giving McConnell a lead of 4-8 points.
Georgia: The current Republican senator is retiring, making this an open seat. Democrats hope to take the seat by nominating Michelle Nunn, who is the daughter of a long-term former Democratic Senator and the CEO of a nonprofit organization. She is probably the best candidate the Democrats could have found, and the race has been close, but at this point she’s probably the underdog to Republican businessman David Perdue, who has consistently led in most polls for the past two months.
Kansas: Republican Senator Pat Roberts is a political dinosaur. 78 years old, he’s been in the Senate for three terms and wants a fourth. The problem is, he’s not very popular, and the Democratic candidate dropped out of the race a month ago and threw his support behind independent Greg Orman. Orman is a blank slate; he has never even said whether he would caucus with Democrats or Republicans, but presumably he would caucus with the side that helped him win, especially if they retain the majority. Roberts is in the fight of his political life. Orman has a lead in the polls, though it has been narrowing as Republican-leaning voters have probably been getting more suspicious of the help Orman is getting from the Democrats.
The GOP is trying to take 8 seats from the Democrats.
Michigan: This is an open seat. Democratic Rep. Gary Peters has consistently held a lead over former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, but the race remains fairly close and may be narrowing, as the four polls have shown Peters with a lead of 4, 5, 3, and 2 points respectively – down from 5-10 in some earlier polls. 15-20% of voters are still undecided and Peters seems to be stuck in the low forties, with a hard time getting above 45% – but Land has a hard time getting above 40%. Peters is the favorite, but Land has a shot if the undecided voters want to express dissatisfaction with Obama by voting against Peters.
New Hamphire: Moderate Republican Scott Brown, former senator from Massachusetts, moved north to New Hampshire to take on incumbent Senator Jeanne Shaheen. I consider this the least likely Republican pick-up; a CNN poll showed the race tied a couple weeks ago, but that appears to be an outlier as polls since have shown Shaheen leading by 5-7 points The race appears to have narrowed, as polls from March-July showed Brown trailing by 10-12 points, but it’s still Shaheen’s to lose.
North Carolina: Incumbent Democratic Senator Kay Hagan has a small lead in the polls, but is deeply unpopular. The problem is, Republican candidate Thom Tillis, speaker of the state House, is also unpopular – due to both the legislature’s unpopularity and a flurry of Democratic attack ads – and is having trouble getting ahead of Hagan. But there are still scads of undecided voters, and undecided voters often break against the incumbent at the last minute. This race could go either way.
Iowa – The closest race in the nation. Democrats chose Rep. Bruce Braley to try to hold the seat vacated by retiring Tom Harkin. The Republicans had trouble finding a well-known candidate, but settled on state sen. Joni Ernst. Recent polls have shown numerous ties or narrow leads for one or the other. RealClearPolitics estimates that Ernst has an advantage of .02% right now. This race is a true tossup.
Colorado: Democratic incumbent Mark Udall is in trouble. Republican Rep. Cory Gardner has all the momentum; the last 5 polls have shown him with the lead. Combined with the GOP gubernatorial nominee leading the incumbent Democratic governor, Colorado could be set to go red in November.
Alaska: Republicans have the momentum here as well. Incumbent Senator Mark Begich has lost his lead in the polls. State attorney general Dan Sullivan looks to be leading by 4-5 points, on average. Alaska polling is notoriously unreliable, though.
Arkansas: Representative Tom Cotton is challenging incumbent Mark Pryor. For awhile, Pryor held a small lead. But most polls recently have given Cotton a pretty steady lead of 2-7 points. At this point, Cotton is favored to come out on top in this one.
Louisiana: This state has a weird system where the November election is actually an open primary; multiple Republican and Democratic candidates can run and if no one reaches a majority (as is common) a runoff is held in December. Unless there is some miracle, this year will feature a runoff as well; but Bill Cassidy, the main Republican candidate, has maintained a lead in most head-to-head polling over incumbent Senator Mary Landrieu. Democrats haven’t quite given up, but if more polls show him with a 13-point lead over Landrieu like a recent Fox News poll, they might.
If I had to make a prediction right now, I would say that the Republicans will win a majority. On the individual races, I would say Republicans keep KY and GA, and take AR, AK, and LA from the Democrats. But I would also say Orman is a slight favorite right now. I think the Democrats will keep NH. That leaves IA, CO, NC, and MI to decide control of the Senate. If the Democrats keep all four, then the Senate will be at 50-50 and Joe Biden will make the tiebreaking vote to keep Harry Reid the Majority Leader. If Republicans win one of the four, they take the lead. If they win more than one, they could withstand the loss of GA or KY if something changes in those races. And if they keep GA, KY, and KS, then they wouldn’t even need one of the four, assuming my prediction that they take AR, AK, and LA is correct. So on balance, I think a GOP majority is the most likely outcome.