Despite Polling Momentum, GOP Can’t Rest Easy

If you’ve read the news over the past several days trying to get a bead on the midterm elections then you’ve likely come away more confused than ever.

On the one hand, a deluge of new polls show that many individual Senate races are beginning to tilt towards Republicans. The RealClearPolitics compilation of polls shows:

  • Republican Joni Ernst is ahead or tied with Bruce Braley in seven of the last eight polls in the race for the Iowa Senate seat, and one of those ties previously had Braley up by four. It appears clear now that Braley’s gaffes have caught up with him.
  • GOP candidate Dan Sullivan is ahead of Democratic Sen. Mark Begich in the seven most recent polls of Alaska. Moreover, Begich’s vote share appears mired in the low 40s, a bad sign for November given the number of ad dollars that have already flowed into the state.
  • In Arkansas, Republican Tom Cotton has been ahead of Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor in nearly every single poll taken since May. His lead also appears to be increasing, with a recent Fox News poll putting him seven points ahead.
  • Republican Cory Gardner has polled ahead of Democratic Sen. Mark Udall in three of the last four polls in Colorado, a significant move from the summer months when polls showed Udall up consistently by as much as seven points. The Denver Post editorial board’s recent endorsement of Gardner could tilt the race even further.
  • In Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell once appeared to be in trouble. In early summer a number of polls showed challenger Allison Lundergan Grimes within the margin of victory. But McConnell has since soared back into the lead and there is a chance national Democrats could abandon the Grimes campaign
  • Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu has been consistently trailing Republican challenger Bill Cassidy. Two recent polls even show that Cassidy has crossed the all-important 50 percent barrier, a strong signal that Sen. Landrieu is all but finished. Her decision to fire her campaign manager with less than a month until Election Day is the latest sign of her desperation.
  • Republican challenger Thom Tillis has pulled within two points of Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan according to two new polls. Interestingly, those were conducted before Hagan admitted that she skipped a key hearing on ISIS in order to attend a fundraiser.
  • Kansas is the most difficult of the close races to track, simply because polling has been all over the place. But Republican Sen. Pat Roberts has led in the last two polls, a huge move from a month ago when polls showed challenger Greg Orman up by 10 points.

But on the other hand, Democrats’ false “War on Women” attacks and massive advantage in outside spending is having a very real impact. In a recent polling memo Stan Greenberg and James Carville write:

For the first time in this election cycle, the WVWVAF-Democracy Corps Senate battleground shows a consistent move toward the Democrats across a broad range of indicators that suggest the Democrats are more likely to hold control of the U.S. Senate than not. This election is still on a knife-edge; the overall vote remains unchanged and many states are within a couple of points. But the underlying dynamics and metrics have all moved away from the Republicans. Some of these changes are dramatic, though the context remains a battleground that Romney won by 8 points. However, Democrats are poised to hold on.

So what should we believe? Do we trust the individual polling and feel confident about a Republican majority? Or do we trust the political undercurrents and fret about an Election Day disappointment?

Perhaps the best answer is neither. There are still three weeks left for political winds to shift, polls to change and momentum to reverse. Rather than spend our time hoping or worrying we’ll out in the field, making phone calls and knocking on doors to send a new wave of conservative reformers to our nation’s capital.