Since January, I have been following polling data from a variety of sources in key Senate races. Although the Republicans are on target to pick up 6-8 seats in the Senate, there are some trends that can be culled from these polls that indicate a path to success. And that trend will become somewhat obvious as you look at the numbers thus far. Two caveats though. First, the elections are 5 months away and a lot can happen between now and then. Many states have not had primaries or run-offs, so anything can change there. Polling data is one thing, actual votes another. Secondly, most of my figures are averages of polls to date. In some actual or hypothetical races, the pool of polls is small (making them less reflective overall). Others reflect the “biases” of the pollsters themselves, which is why I use an average of polls. It kind of softens the political bias of certain polls. Also note that I am looking at only the interesting races, not ones in places like Iowa, Utah, New York, or elsewhere. Also, every state has their unique political dynamics and local issues that affect voter preferences. Their impact, although important, is not looked at here.
Republican seats to defend with incumbents running: There are two states in this category- North Carolina and Louisiana. In the former, incumbent Richard Burr leads by an average of 11.9 points while David Vitter leads by 20 points in Louisiana. One would think that the Democrats would be closer since Burr’s popularity ratings in North Carolina are not exactly stellar while Vitter still has the cloud of corruption over his head. Yet, this shows the power of incumbency. Vitter has the added advantage of representing a state trending more red recently and a Democratic opponent who also has ethics questions. I would expect that once the Democrats stop fighting over their candidate, this race to tighten up a little, but Burr should prevail.
Republican seats to defend without incumbents running: There are five states in this category. In Kentucky, Tea Party favorite and libertarian leaning Rand Paul holds a nine-point lead. However, this race should become closer, especially if Paul keeps making missteps. People really don’t care about the nuances of personal property and the effects of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on it. Voters will not remember the philosophy, just the sound bites. Still, things look good here. In Missouri, Roy Blunt leads Carnahan (the presumed opponent) by 5.5 points, but getting closer. Kelly Ayotte has been a very consistent leader in New Hampshire and averages a 9.5 lead while in Ohio, Rob Portman holds a 7.9 lead. What all these Republican candidates- except Paul- hav in common is the fact that they can be considered more moderate than conservative. In fact, they average a 7.6 lead. The other seat meeting this criteria is Florida where there is a three-man race between Rubio, the Democratic guy, and Crist. Prior to Crist pulling out of the Republican primary, he- the “moderate”- lead by 16 while Rubio- the conservative- led by 10.5 over the Democrat. Now, in the 3-way race- Crist still leads by 1 point over Rubio and 16 over Meek. While many readers will no doubt question the credentials of Crist as a true Republican in the first place, the fact remains that the moderate, let’s assume Republican would fair better than the conservative.
Seats held by Democrats with incumbents defending: There are six states in this category- Patty Murray in Washington, Russ Feingold in Wisconsin, Barbara Boxer in California, Mike Bennett in Colorado, Blanche Lincoln (assumed) in Arkansas, and Harry Reid in Nevada. In Washington, both Dan Benton and Dino Rossi trail Murray with Benton, the more moderate, trending better than Rossi. In Wisconsin, conservative David Westlake trails by 14 points. Lincoln trails Boozman in Arkansas by 16.8 points. The interesting races are California, Colorado and Nevada. In California, all three potential Republicans- Fiorina, DeVore and Campbell- all trail Barbara Boxer. Campbell, the moderate among the group, trails by the least (3.9), while DeVore- the conservative- trails by the most (6.9). Since receiving Palin’s support, Fiorina’s numbers have deteriorated from a 3-point underdog to now, an 8-point underdog. In Colorado, when Bennett is matched up against the more moderate Jane Norton, she is 3.3 points ahead while when matched against the more conservative Ken Buck, the race is essentially even. And in Nevada, if ever there was a chance to strike a blow against the Democratic Party, it would be to run Harry Reid out of office. In hypothetical match-ups, he trails the more moderate Sue Lowden by 12 points while leading the Tea Party backed, conservative Sharron Angle by 4 points. The trouble is that currently Angle leads Lowden for the Republican nomination. The bottom line is: if Republicans run the more moderate candidate, they average a 5.9 point advantage. If they run the more conservative candidate, they average a 7.1 disadvantage!
Current Democratic seats without incumbents running: There are only four states here- Delaware, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Illinois. In three of those four states, the Republican nominee can be classified as more moderate than conservative- Mike Castle in Delaware, Dan Coats in Indiana, and Mark Kirk in Illinois. They average an 11.8 point advantage. The lone conservative Republican- Pat Toomey in the Keystone state- leads by only 0.3 points (but getting better). In fact, he would have polled better had Specter been the Democratic nominee. Still, again the trend is that moderate Republicans trend much better than conservative Republican nominees.
Taken overall, in given and hypothetical match-ups, regardless of incumbency concerns, Republican moderates average a 7.6 point advantage over their Democratic rivals. Republican conservatives average a 1.1 point advantage over their Democratic rivals. Clearly, the trend towards electoral victory in November for the Republican Party is moderation, not staunch conservatism. Where Republicans have the greatest chance to inflict psychological damage on the Democratic Party- Illinois for Obama’s old seat and Nevada, for Reid’s seat- the evidence could not be more obvious. Mark Kirk, a moderate, leads by 5 points currently while in Nevada, Angle, the conservative, trails by 4 points with Lowden, the moderate leading by 12 points. Why would Republicans want to shoot themselves in the proverbial foot by fielding conservative losers as opposed to moderate winners?