Movement in poll averages for eight Senate races over the last week overwhelmingly favored Republican candidates, affirming the prevailing wisdom that a stiff wind is blowing and gaining force that will make the elections this fall very difficult for Democrats.
The GOP still faces an enormous uphill climb to take back control of the Senate. Republican candidates lead in only 5 of the 10 Democratic-held seats they would need to win to gain the majority. But a Republican Senate is not outside the realm of possibility, since their candidates are within striking distance in enough races that a perfect storm could sweep them in.
Two Democrats – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal – saw their leads over Republican candidates reduced. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who is running as an independent but is expected to caucus with Democrats if he wins and they retain the majority – also saw his lead over Tea Party favorite Marco Rubio downsized. And four Republican candidates saw their advantages increase.
One Republican candidate – Rep. Mark Kirk of Illinois – saw his slim 2.3 point lead of a week ago, as measured by the Real Clear Politics average, dissolve. RCP moved Kirk’s contest with Democrat Alexi Giannoulias, the state treasurer who benefitted from President Obama’s Aug. 5 fundraiser, to a toss up.
But Republican candidates in Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio and Pennsylvania all extended their leads against Democratic opponents.
Physician Rand Paul’s lead over Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, measured by the average of all polling on the race, went from 6.5 percent to 8.2 percent. Rep. Roy Blunt went from 5.7 percent to 6.7 percent ahead of Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan.
Former Bush White House budget director Rob Portman increased his lead over Ohio Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, from 1.8 percent to 3 percent. And in Pennsylvania, former Congressman Pat Toomey saw a sizable jump in his lead over Rep. Joe Sestak, going from 2 percent up to a 5.6 percent advantage.
Reid, despite having spent millions of dollars in a furious attack on Republican Sharron Angle, a former state legislator, saw his lead slip from 2.5 percent to 1.5 percent. Both pollsters who have consistently surveyed on this race, the Las Vegas Review Journal and Rasmussen Reports, have tracked Reid’s trajectory as behind for most of the year until July, then losing ground over the last few weeks.
Angle is a former state legislator who many — including one of the Republicans she defeated in the primary — believe is one of the few candidates capable of losing to Reid, who is especially unpopular among many voters in his state. Yet while Reid has done an effective job of defining Angle by using her most unusual or extreme remarks against her, he has failed to deliver a knockout punch.
In Connecticut, Democrats wasted no time in going after Republican candidate Linda McMahon after she won her Aug. 10 primary last week. Democrats lobbed YouTube videos by the dozens showing McMahon engaging in all kinds of antics during her time as CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment.
But instead of padding Blumenthal’s lead over McMahon, which stood at 14.5 percent near the end of last week, the Democrat saw McMahon gaining on him, closing to 8.5 percentage points behind in an average of polling. The indication is that voters aren’t moved by the outlandish behavior in the videos – viewing it as entertainment rather than morally troubling – and are also swayed by the argument that McMahon built and ran a multi-million dollar corporation.
There are 11 Democratic-held Senate seats that comprise targets for potential Republican pickups. Republicans lead by big numbers in Arkansas, Delaware, and Indiana. They have, or have had, marginal or thin leads in Pennsylvania, Colorado and Illinois. And they will have to overcome Democratic advantages in California, Connecticut, Nevada, Washington and Wisconsin.
Republicans are most vulnerable to losing their own seats in Florida and Ohio, though some still think Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana could face a serious challenge once Democrats unite behind a candidate following their Aug. 28 primary.