Ellison’s Election Tip Sheet

Ellison Barber election tip sheet

In a piece Friday morning, Politico writes that three of the "big Senate races" are breaking toward Republican candidates. If you look at the latest headlines about each state, it seems like they’re right.

ARKANSAS: SENATE

Another poll finds Republican Rep. Tom Cotton leading Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor.

USA Today reports:

A new USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll shows just how tough Democrats have it in the fight to keep control of the U.S. Senate: Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor, running for re-election in a state President Obama lost, is all tied up with GOP challenger Tom Cotton. Pryor leads Republican Cotton by just 2 points: 45 percent to 43 percent, with 7 percent undecided — well within the margin of error for the survey released Wednesday. […]

Pryor's job approval rating is only slightly ahead of Obama's, 38 percent to 34 percent — another reason Pryor is a top target for Republicans looking to win six additional seats in the Senate to take majority control.

Politically the state seems to be in the last stretch before turning solidly red. Pryor is the sole Democrat representing the state in Congress. The state has been trending red for a while, and they’re considered one of the most conservative in the country.

Obama is incredibly unpopular there.

Poll after poll shows that Pyror is down, and it may be a small lead, but he’s unpopular and right now there is very little about the state that favors Democrats.

ALASKA: SENATE

Incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Begich is underperforming in polls, despite attempts to highlight his opponent’s time outside of Alaska.

The Hill writes:

The Republican has surged to a lead against Sen. Mark Begich (D.) in recent polls in the race that’s likely to be critical to the balance of Senate power. Though the race is expected to remain close, some Democrats are worried that Begich is playing catch-up in a state where it’s tough to make up ground for their party. […]

Begich has turned back to attacks on women’s issues and questioning Sullivan’s ties to Alaska. An Ohio native, Sullivan moved to Alaska in the late 1990s, married his Alaskan Native wife and spent much of the 2000s living in Washington, D.C., while he worked in the White House and State Department and served in the Marines.

Begich’s allies found another way to hit the issue by asking Maryland’s tax assessor whether Sullivan had properly claimed tax breaks for his East Coast home. The assessor said on Tuesday that he was entitled to them because he’d been a Maryland resident during that period, triggering a wave of local coverage in the state.

So far, the article notes, the residency criticisms "haven’t done much to halt Sullivan’s rise."

While I think they are fair criticisms, anytime someone resorts to the residency attack I think it’s a slight indication of desperation (whether it’s Democrats doing it as they are here, or Republicans doing it in Louisiana). Begich is struggling in the polls, and it seems like his camp is reaching toward more parochial attacks to discredit Sullivan.

Alaska is a difficult state to poll, but two major polling companies had Sullivan ahead last week, as did a local poll from a Republican-leaning firm called Dittman Research—Dittman actually has a pretty good track record in the state. That is significant, and Begich is clearly struggling. The residency attack suggests his campaign knows it.

LOUISANA: SENATE

Another poll came out this week and put Sen. Mary Landrieu (D., La.) slightly behind her Republican challenger if the race goes to a runoff.

PPP found:

Public Policy Polling's newest Louisiana poll finds Bill Cassidy with a slight lead over Mary Landrieu in a possible December runoff election, 48/45. The two candidates had been tied at 47 on PPP's last look at the race in late June. […]

There has been a lot of speculation about how turnout might influence the dynamics in a December runoff election, and on that front we find something that is at least a little disturbing for Democrats. 89% of likely voters for November also say that they will definitely vote in a runoff election if there is one. Among those voters Cassidy's lead expands to 50/45. Among the 11% of voters who say just they will probably vote, that the chances are 50/50, or that they will probably not vote Landrieu leads by 13 points at 40/27.

Landrieu does at least continue to have a clear lead in the November election. 42% of voters say they will support her to 34% for Bill Cassidy and 12% for Rob Maness with 2% saying they will support one of the other minor candidates in the race. Maness continues to be no real threat to Cassidy's chances of finishing in the top two.

Cassidy leads Landrieu in the runoff based on two key things: he leads with independents at 46/37, and he is also winning over 18% of Democrats compared to the 13% of Republicans Landrieu is getting. This race features about as large of a racial divide as we ever see- Cassidy is up 68/24 with white voters, while Landrieu leads 89/7 with African Americans.

Republicans are holding the lead in Louisiana and this poll further illustrates that.

If the race goes to a runoff, which looks increasingly likely, it will be difficult for Landrieu because turnout will likely be lower, and she won’t have two Republicans splitting the vote.

There is an "anti-Democrat trend" in the state. Landrieu has run into additional problems by not delivering on energy issues and using taxpayer money to charter private planes. Despite that, Landrieu is a tough one to beat. The thing to remember is that Landrieu has been the "vulnerable" candidate Republicans wanted to flip for a while now—and she still manages to stay around.

She won a tough reelection campaign in 2002 and 2008. Landrieu typically wins with just barely above 50 percent, but she does manage to win and she’s used to difficult elections.

Landrieu is behind—that’s obvious—but, given her track record, she’s not one I would count out just yet.