Election 2014: Latest Polling Tilts Redder

Scroll down the RealClearPolitics poll summary for the last few days, and you see a lot more red than blue in the latest surveys released for Senate, House and governor's races. Many races are very close in all three categories, but over the past two weeks the GOP position -- particularly in House and Senate races -- has generally improved.

Governor's races are the biggest crapshoot. RealClearPolitics counts 14 races as tossups: Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Wisconsin, Illinois, Colorado, Hawaii, Alaska, Arizona, Kansas, and Michigan. Since eight of the 14 are currently in Republican hands, this may be the biggest opportunity for gains for Democrats. There is little chance Democrats will gain seats in either house of Congress.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is now focusing on only 25 races, and 18 of them are seats currently held by Democrats. If the Democrats won all 25, they would still be 10 seats short of the 218 seats needed to take control of the House. A more likely result at this point, given that Democrats are on defense in most of the  competitive races, is for the GOP to hit 240 or more, maybe even to hit a number higher than the party has achieved at any time in the past 65 years.

The RCP House summary, as well as those of Larry Sabato and Stuart Rothenberg, suggests that more Democratic-held seats are likely to shift than Republican-held seats, since more of the tossup races are for Democratic-held seats. As an example, today there are no Republicans in the U.S. House from any of the six New England states -- but Republicans are competitive in both New Hampshire districts, Maine 2, and Massachusetts 6, the last two being open seats. The GOP also has excellent pickup opportunities in Illinois 10 and 12, and has a decent chance in Iowa 1 and 2, two seats thought safe for Democrats a few months back. These are districts in states where Republicans have underperformed in recent cycles. With unhappiness with Congress expressed quite strongly in every poll, the  few dozen House districts that are competitive after the last post-census redistricting (which was performed skillfully by both parties where they had the opportunity) could well see a lot of turnover.

The greatest media attention has been devoted to the Senate, where the Republicans, after losing at least six winnable races in 2010 and 2012 (Colorado and Delaware in 2010; North Dakota, Montana, Missouri, and Indiana in 2012), now seem poised to win at least the six net pickups to finally get over the top to 51.

The latest figures suggest that as many as 13 seats could swing from one party to the other or to independents -- 10 of them now held by Democrats, three by Republicans. Since virtually all analysts concede that Republicans will win in open seat races in West Virginia (Shelley Moore Capito against Natalie Tennant) and Montana (Steve Daines versus Amanda Curtis), the GOP could wind up with anywhere from 44 to 55 seats. Nate Silver currently puts the chances of the GOP hitting only 44 at 0.3%, but at 61% for winning a majority of 51 or more, and  52% for realizing 52 or more.

While most of the competitive races still show leads of only five points or fewer, there have still been noticeable changes in the landscape the last few weeks. Republicans are in much stronger shape, building leads of two to five points in Colorado (Cory Gardner against Mark Udall), Alaska (Dan Sullivan against Mike Begich), and Iowa (Joni Ernst against Bruce Braley) and moving closer in North Carolina (Thom Tillis versus Kay Hagan) and New Hampshire (Scott Brown versus Jeanne Shaheen) -- probably both are now one- to three-point leads for the incumbent Democrats.

Republicans have maintained a steady lead in Kentucky (Mitch McConnell versus Alison Lundergan Grimes), Arkansas (Tom Cotton versus Mark Pryor), and Louisiana in a head-to-head match for a likely runoff in December (Bill Cassidy versus Mary Landrieu). In a multi-candidate race with two Republicans, Landrieu has a small lead but is well short of the 50% needed to avoid a runoff. In a one-on-one runoff, Cassidy has extended his lead week after week, reaching 9 points in the latest poll.

On the other hand, three races are surprisingly problematic for the Republicans at this stage, given Republican strength in all of them in recent cycles.

In Kansas, the wounds have not healed after a bitter primary between long serving Senator Pat Roberts and Tea Party candidate Milton Wolf. Wolf has refused to endorse Roberts. A strong independent candidate  Greg Orman, is the only serious contender after the Democratic candidate dropped out to improve Orman’s chances of victory. Orman claims he is truly independent and will not commit to which Party he will caucus with if he wins (kind of like Alison Lundergan Grimes refusing to say whether she voted for President Obama) . However, his contribution  history in prior campaigns, and some policy positions suggest he is a Democrat. Orman held a ten point lead two weeks back, but most recent polls have Roberts narrowly in the lead. Prominent Republicans from in the state and other states are all working to salvage Roberts’ seat. On the other side, George Soros’ son is holding a fundraiser for the wealthy Orman, who has been largely self-funding his campaign. This carries the risk of tying Orman  more closely to Democrats, not helpful with Senate control at stake in a  Republican state.

The other race that has appeared from nowhere is the contest for the open seat in South Dakota, where Republican Governor Mike Rounds seemed to be sailing to an easy victory until a scandal over EB-5 visas put him on the defensive. Again, an independent candidate figures into the mix: three-term former Republican Senator Larry Pressler, as well as Democrat Rick Weiland. Both national parties have decided to step up spending in the state, an inexpensive media market, after an automated poll showed the race much closer (a four-point Rounds lead over Pressler) than every prior survey. Pressler’s candidacy is running on a shoestring, but he has high name recognition. Rounds’ campaign is expressing confidence that their own polling shows a much bigger lead of over 10 points.

The biggest shift away from the Republicans has been in Georgia. Georgia has a large, growing black population (over 30%) and a growing Hispanic population, and these demographic changes have narrowed the Republican advantage in the state. Democrats have a candidate with a good name: Michelle Nunn, daughter of the former blue dog Democrat Senator Sam Nunn. The Republican nominee who emerged from a five-candidate field is businessman David Perdue. Perdue held a modest lead for weeks, until he started getting hit over outsourcing by his business and defended the practice. Democrats have pounced, much as they successfully targeted Mitt Romney in 2012 for similar activities while at Bain Capital.

Georgia is like Louisiana: if no candidate reaches 50%, there is a runoff between the top two candidates in early January. Usually turnout drops in runoff elections, and that might be good for Perdue. The presence of a Libertarian candidate makes it more likely that the 50% bar will not be reached.

At the moment, Roberts may be a slight favorite in Kansas, Rounds remains favored in South Dakota, and Georgia is truly a tossup. The Republicans hold a lead in the last polls taken in all of the competitive races except Georgia, with tiny leads in New Hampshire and North Carolina, the first time that has happened this cycle (though poll averages still have Democrats ahead in both states). If that is where things wind up November 4, Republicans will have secured 53 seats, with two runoffs in Louisiana and Georgia to follow -- one with an advantage for the GOP, the other a tossup. That would make for a very good result for the party. If the GOP can hold all the competitive seats it is defending -- Kansas, Kentucky, Georgia -- but fall short in New Hampshire and North Carolina, that will still get the party to 53. There will not be too many complaints from Republicans and their supporters if they get that high.