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Period Ending October 17, 2014

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This weekly roundup of election news and notes is compiled for Thompson Coburn by the The Ellis Insight.

Senate

Senate Overall: As we move closer to election, the public domain is filled with polling data and the airwaves overwhelmed with political advertising. Therefore, we will summarize the trends in each tight race. Last week it appeared that Democrats were building momentum and were about to gain the upper hand in order to save their majority or at least salvage a tie. This week, the tide seemed to sway back toward the GOP, and now chances appear better than even that they can win the six net seats they need to claim the Senate majority. But, we still have more than two full weeks remaining in prime campaign time. The races are so close across the board that anything can still happen.

Alaska: Polling is showing a continual pattern that Republican Dan Sullivan is leading Sen. Mark Begich (D), and he appears ready to put this race away. At this point, the Alaska race looks to be the Republicans’ best conversion prospect in the country. The last eight public polls all show Sullivan leading, with margins between two and eight percentage points.

Arkansas: Polling here has been up and down for both candidates, but Republican Tom Cotton has led in more surveys, and by much larger margins. Sen. Mark Pryor (D) typically scores in the low 40s, very dangerous territory for any incumbent. With the open Governor’s race looking strong for the GOP, and all of the House races below the Senate campaign also looking equally robust, the indicators suggest a Cotton victory is more likely than not.

Colorado: There appears to be a turning of the tables in the Centennial State. For months, first term Sen. Mark Udall (D) held a consistent but very small lead over Rep. Cory Gardner (R). But now, Gardner is the regular leader in poll after poll. In the last ten public polls, Gardner leads in nine, with margins between one and eight points. This race may be peaking at the right time for Mr. Gardner and the Republicans.

Iowa: The last ten surveys show Republican Joni Ernst leading in six, Democrat Bruce Braley ahead in three, and one is a tie. One Republican poll gives Ernst a nine-point lead, but no other survey gives either candidate an edge beyond three points. This will undoubtedly be a close finish, but Ernst has a bit more of an advantage as the two candidates turn for home.

Kansas: The Sunflower State continues to be a problem for veteran Republican incumbent Pat Roberts, but the Senator has clearly improved his position. Roberts’ opponent is Independent Greg Orman who leads in most polls. Roberts is highly damaged, and he and the Republicans are going hard after Orman to try and define him as a liberal. If the strategy works, Roberts can still win; if Roberts is still more disliked than Orman on Election Day, then this could be another GOP loss in what should be a safe state for them.

Kentucky: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell appears poised to put distance between he and Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes. Polls still rate this campaign as close, but McConnell is viewed as a favorite to the point that Grimes winning would be considered a major upset.

Louisiana: There has been a decided shift in this race and toward challenger Bill Cassidy, the Baton Rouge Congressman (six polls in a row place him leading Sen. Mary Landrieu). The question remains, with nine candidates on what amounts to a primary ballot, can either Cassidy or Sen. Landrieu obtain the 50% that prevents either from winning outright on November 4th? If no one attains majority support, a December 6th run-off election will occur. If we have a situation with 50 Republican wins and holdovers on Election Night, the run-off will determine the majority.

Michigan: This race appears headed toward Rep. Gary Peters (D-MI-14). All data shows the Detroit Congressman putting distance between he and Republican nominee Terri Lynn Land, the former Secretary of State. Put this one in the Democratic column.

Montana: This open Democratic state is a slam dunk for Rep. Steve Daines and the Republicans.

New Hampshire: The latest poll shows former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (R) taking a one point lead over Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D). This state has swung more violently than any place in the country since 2006, defeating more incumbents than the voters have re-elected. Sen. Shaheen remains the favorite, but Brown can still not be discounted.

North Carolina: Sen. Kay Hagan (D) has been on a nice roll in her battle with state House Speaker Thom Tillis (R), but the race is again beginning to tighten. Margins are now back to no more than two points, and the swing seems to be turning in favor of a damaged Tillis. Sen. Hagan has clearly run the superior campaign, but the state’s conservative voting pattern in the midterm election and the voters’ penchant for unseating incumbent Senators means a close race retains an upset possibility.

South Dakota: What should be a cruise for the GOP has now turned into a wild and woolly three-way affair among former Gov. Mike Rounds (R), ex-congressional aide Rick Weiland (D), and former Republican US Senator turned Independent Barack Obama supporter Larry Pressler. The ex-Senator has been gaining, but Rounds still leads the race. His (Rounds) problem is that he is dropping below 40%. Now in the high 30s, his chances of victory are less. The three-way format will likely save Rounds, and he will still probably win the race despite performing poorly in this campaign.

West Virginia: Another Democratic open seat that will be safely Republican. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R) will successfully move from the House to the Senate.

House

House Overview: The House races appear stable, at least in terms of which party will control the majority. Republicans are well positioned not only to maintain their 234-201 (when vacancies are added to the total) partisan divide, but are favored to actually increase the total. GOP candidates hitting on or around 240 seats in the 114th Congress is probable.

CA-7: The Sacramento race between freshman Rep. Ami Bera (D) and former Rep. Doug Ose (R) is fast becoming the top California race. Both sides are pouring in money, signaling that the Congressman’s hold on the district is faltering. This is a Republican conversion opportunity.

CA-52: With sexual harassment accusations surrounding Republican candidate Carl DeMaio, his challenge to freshman Rep. Scott Peters (D) may have been blunted. Polling is close, but the latest trends are now beginning to favor Peters after the incumbent was behind for most of the election cycle.

CO-6: Though the race between Rep. Mike Coffman (R) and former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff (D) is close, national Democratic Party leaders are putting advertising money elsewhere. Their thought is that Romanoff and outside organizations have the resources to support the campaign through the final weeks. This allows the independent party expenditures to be directed toward shoring up vulnerable Democratic incumbents.

IL-10: Trends seem to be swinging freshman Rep. Brad Schneider’s (D) way now, after former Rep. Bob Dold (R) had been performing well for most of the election cycle. Two Democratic pollsters, Lester & Associates and the Global Strategy Group, combined on a poll for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) [10/4-6; 400 IL-10 likely voters] and found Rep. Schneider leading Mr. Dold 48-40%. It is important to keep in mind that this particular 10th District was drawn in Springfield with the intent purpose of defeating Dold, hence the obstacles preventing a Republican comeback are high.

IA-3: For the first time, a poll shows Republican open seat candidate David Young pulling ahead of Democrat Staci Appel in their Des Moines political battle to succeed retiring Rep. Tom Latham (R). According to the Remington Research Group (10/11-13; 663 IA-3 likely voters), Mr. Young has forged a 46-42% advantage. All other polling for this politically marginal seat has favored Ms. Appel.

NH 1 & 2: New England College again released new data, this time suggesting that former Rep. Frank Guinta (R) now enjoys a slight two-point lead over Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D). The two are battling for the third time, with each previously unseating the other as an incumbent. The race will seesaw until the final vote is cast. Either can win, but the midterm turnout model may again favor Guinta, as it did in 2010. In the more Democratic 2nd District, freshman Rep. Annie Kuster (D) clings to a similarly small three-point lead over state Rep. Marilinda Garcia (R). The New Hampshire electorate is unpredictable, so anything can still happen in both of these congressional districts.

ME-2: Talk is prevalent in Republican circles that this is a sleeper race for the GOP. It may well be, but polling still gives Democratic state Sen. Emily Cain a slight edge. Still, the 2nd District was represented by a Republican for 16 years, Olympia Snowe before her election to the Senate in 1994, and could flip again. Instead of the candidates both moving to the center, as what usually happens in Maine, this race features a leftward Democrat and a rightward Republican. So, a much different type of campaign has unfolded here than is usual. As always, the turnout model will tell the tale. Cain still has a slight advantage, but the Republicans and former state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin are well positioned to score an upset.

MN-7: A new poll suggests that a challenge to Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson (D) is very serious. Tarrance & Associates (10/12-14; 300 likely voters) gives challenger Torrey Westrom (R) a 44-43% edge over Rep. Peterson, the first such poll to show the Congressman trailing. Mr. Peterson has represented the northwestern Minnesota district since 1991, and normally wins easy re-elections despite this being the second strongest Republican CD in the state. Previously, Survey USA released data (10/3-6; 545 likely voters) that posted the Congressman to a 50-41% advantage. The finale for this campaign will be an interesting one.

MN-8: In the northeastern Minnesota CD, a new independent Survey USA poll (10/9-12; 555 likely voters) finds Republican challenger Stewart Mills now leading Rep. Rick Nolan (D) 47-39%. This is after Greenberg Quinlan Rosner (for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee; 9/25-28; 405 likely voters) released data that gave Nolan a similar 48-37% lead. Both parties have been spending heavily here, and the 8th District is proving to be one of the more interesting challenge races in the country.

Governor

Governor Overview: As we turn into the final two full weeks of campaigning, the Governors’ races may be the tightest campaigns of all. As many as twenty states are witnessing real competition for their top office, and Democrats appear a bit better positioned to score slight gains than Republicans. Currently, the GOP controls 29 Governors’ offices as compared to 21 for Democrats. Republicans are still likely to hold more after this election that features 36 gubernatorial campaigns, but the margin may well be smaller.

Nine of the races can be rated as toss-ups. They are: Alaska, where Gov. Sean Parnell (R) finds himself in serious trouble against an Independent/Democrat coalition that places challenger Bill Walker (I) ahead in many polls; Colorado, featuring Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) and former Rep. Bob Beauprez (R) in a battle that appears to be an even contest; Connecticut, as Gov. Dan Malloy (D) and former Ambassador Tom Foley (R) are locked in a tied contest that could prove just as close as their razor thin campaign of four years ago; Florida, where the result of a series of five polls between Gov. Rick Scott (R) and ex-Gov. Charlie Crist (D) is suggesting the campaign is a flat tie; Georgia, yielding poll after poll suggesting that Gov. Nathan Deal (R) is in a nip and tuck contest with Jimmy Carter’s grandson, state Sen. Jason Carter (D); and Massachusetts, where businessman Charlie Baker (R) has a legitimate chance of upsetting Attorney General Martha Coakley (D) for that state’s gubernatorial post.

Incumbents who were trailing but have rebounded significantly to now position themselves for a possible comeback victory are Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D), Kansas’ Sam Brownback (R), and possibly Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) who may again benefit from having two opponents, a Democrat and a strong Independent. Pennsylvania’s Tom Corbett (R) appears to be the one incumbent that is surely destined for defeat.