New Polls Give Democrats a Sliver of Hope for Keeping the Senate

New polls released on Sunday show that while the Republicans still hold a slight advantage and remain favorites to take control of the Senate, several races have either narrowed or seen the Democrat take a slight lead.


More problematic for Republicans, Georgia, Kentucky, and Kansas — all three states held by the GOP — are now considered genuine toss-ups.

The fact that so many races are so close and we’re nine days away from the election means that the GOP has failed to close the sale in many races and now may find themselves in an uphill battle for control of the Senate.

There is good news. Governor Mike Rounds of South Dakota has forged ahead by double digits in the poll after seeing his lead vanish earlier this month. Nate Silver gives Rounds a 96% chance of holding the seat for the GOP.

Elsewhere, things are not quite as rosy. Here are some results from the NBC/Marist poll that give the Democrats some hope:

  • In Colorado’s Senate contest, Republican challenger Cory Gardner holds a one-point lead among likely voters over incumbent Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., 46 percent to 45 percent. Back in September’s NBC/Marist poll, Udall was ahead by six points, 48 percent to 42 percent.
  • In Iowa, Republican Joni Ernst edges Democrat Bruce Braley by three points, 49 percent to 46 percent. Earlier this month, Ernst’s lead was two points, 46 percent to 44 percent.
  • In Kansas, independent Greg Orman has a one-point advantage over Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, 45 percent to 44 percent – down from Orman’s 10-point lead earlier this month in the NBC/Marist poll.
  • In Arkansas, Republican challenger Tom Cotton gets the support of 45 percent of likely voters, versus incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., at 43 percent. In September, Cotton’s lead was five points.
  • And in North Carolina, incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., and GOP opponent Thom Tillis are tied at 43 percent each. That’s down from Hagan’s four-point lead earlier this month. Libertarian Sean Haugh gets 7 percent of the vote.

Gardner has the lead in other recent polls by a larger margin, and Republicans in the state are encouraged about early voting results.  And Joni Ernst in Iowa has maintained a consistent lead over her opponent, Rep. Bruce Braley, since late September.

But Mark Pryor appears to be hanging tough in Arkansas as Cotton can’t seem to open up much daylight. And a senator considered one of the most vulnerable at the start of the campaign, Kay Hagan, has shown a lot of resiliency in a state where President Obama’s popularity is less than 40%.

Alaska is another state where the Republican candidate should probably be farther ahead. The poll shows incumbent Democrat Mark Begich within 4 points of challenger Daniel Sullivan. Sullivan is another candidate who has been ahead in most of the polls over the last month but can’t seem to separate himself from his opponent.

Where the GOP might win or lose the Senate, however, is in states they are trying to hold against stiff Democratic challengers. Georgia, Kentucky, and Kansas are all too close to call at this point, which should worry Republicans given the tight races elsewhere.

Senator Mitch McConnell, the only incumbent in this group, has recently opened a small lead over Alison Lundergan Grimes. But the six-point lead given him by the poll is the largest he’s had for months and you have to wonder if it’s an outlier of sorts. Other surveys have had the race much closer.


In Georgia, what was once a small lead for Republican David Perdue has become a statistical dead heat. Negative ads targeting Perdue’s supposed outsourcing of jobs have apparently narrowed the race there.

In Kansas, Democrat (independent) Greg Orman has lost his big lead and incumbent GOP Senator Pat Roberts may have some momentum. But the race is still far from decided.

Nate Silver sums up the Republican dilemma:

But Democrats have a good drawing hand: their chances are equivalent to completing a flush with two cards to come in Texas hold ‘em. Perhaps Begich’s ground game will save him in Alaska. Perhaps Mary Landrieu will survive in a runoff in Louisiana. The Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes also remains close to Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell in some polls of Kentucky.

We wouldn’t bet on any precise one of those outcomes occurring. But the Democrats have a lot of lottery tickets, and there’s a good chance that at least one draw will come through for them. In only 30 percent of our model’s simulations on Sunday morning did Republicans sweep each of Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia. That means Republicans often will have to win one or more of Georgia, Kansas, New Hampshire and North Carolina if they want to take over the Senate.

Republicans are far head in Montana, West Virginia, and now South Dakota which means they only need three more to realize their majority. Out of seven competitive states being defended by Democrats, the GOP is ahead in five, tied in two, and narrowly losing in one. Obviously, things would have to break magically for Democrats for them to hold on to control, but stranger things have happened. We may wake up on Wednesday looking at the possibility that one or two run-off elections will decide the issue. Louisiana will almost certainly be heading for a December runoff while Georgia may also see a do-over in January.


So it looks good for Republicans a little more than a week from the election. But Democrats are not without hope that a break here and there will foil GOP plans for a Senate takeover and allow them to keep their majority.

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