With the Finish Line in Sight, Republicans Capture “The Big Mo”

In politics, momentum matters. It emboldens donors and volunteers. It plays a psychological role in reaffirming the wisdom of voters’ choices. And it alters the lens through which the media reports on individual races.

And right now Republicans have all of the momentum. NBC News reports:

Control of the U.S. Senate is coming down to the wire, with Democrats and Republicans locked in tight races in the key contests that will determine the majority in that chamber of Congress, according to six new NBC News/Marist polls.

The momentum in these races, however, has swung mostly in the Republican Party’s direction, giving the GOP a clear path to winning the majority.

Among the polls findings:

  • In Colorado, Republican Cory Gardner now holds a one-point lead over Sen. Mark Udall. Just one month ago Udall led the race by 6 points.
  • In Iowa, Republican Joni Ernst is cruising towards the all-important 50-percent mark, and now leads Democrat Bruce Braley by three points, 49 percent to 46 percent.
  • In North Carolina, GOP challenger Thom Tilis is now in a statistical tie with Democrat Sen. Key Hagan. Just a month ago Hagan was ahead by 4 points.

A broader measure of momentum can be found in the “congressional control” question, which asks likely voters which party they feel should lead Congress. A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey finds that Republicans now hold an 11-point lead on the question (52 percent to 41 percent). Just a week ago Republicans had a much narrower 5-point lead. Janet Hook provides some perspective for just how important that growing lead is:

By historical measures, an 11-point lead on the question of which party should control Congress is large. Republicans held a seven-point lead on the question at this point in the 2010 election in a Journal/NBC survey, which used a different method to determine which voters were most likely to cast ballots. Republicans went on that year to make big gains in the Senate and to retake the majority in the House.

So what explains the growing national and local momentum? Fortunately for Republicans, there isn’t one answer. Instead, voters appear to be dissatisfied with Democrats for a variety of reasons: The economy continues to be poor, Obamacare remains unpopular, the president keeps stumbling, and the Democratic candidates themselves keep earning headlines for all of the wrong reasons.

As Molly Ball reports for the Atlantic:

In past election years, Democrats have been able to rely on Republicans squandering opportunities thanks to infighting, inept candidates, and campaign missteps. But this year, it is Democrats who have made the mistakes, while the GOP has produced compelling, relatively gaffe-free candidates and unified around them.

Ball’s story focuses around Iowa Democrat Bruce Braley, who was once considered a shoe-in in a state President Obama won twice. But things fell apart quickly for Braley. He was caught on tape disparaging popular Sen. Chuck Grassley as “a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school.” Braley’s written apology didn’t win him any favors either as it included multiple misspellings of basic, farm-related words. He then solidified that he has no business representing a close-knit, blue-collar, farm-based state like Iowa when he got caught attempting to sue a neighbor because her therapeutic hens wandered onto his property.

But Braley, and all other Democratic candidates, are dealing with far more than the individual dynamics of their races. They also must deal with the federal government’s bumbling response to recent crises. According to a new Washington Post poll a majority of Americans now say the government’s ability to deal with big problems have declined, and voters, by a 3 to 1 margin, blame Obama and Democrats for that state of affairs.

In politics momentum is important. But in politics anything can happen. So although the landscape appears favorable and the forecast appears bright, College Republicans will continue to be the boots on the ground making sure those favorable poll numbers turn into Election Day results.