Wednesday, October 22, 2014

GOP Has a Narrow Edge in Bid to Retake the Senate

However, polling analysis combined with strength of Democrats ground game tamps down prediction for larger win!

Here's the Wednesday, October 22 Real Clear Politics (RCP) Senate election map:


Note that 9 seats are rated as "tossups" with polling averages within the margin of error. First, a note about polling averages. RCP takes all recent polls for a particular race and averages them together. It's like comparing apples and oranges since each poll uses a different method but it does give a good overview of a race. A better indicator might be a poll taken at several points during the campaign showing a trend towards or against a particular candidate provided that poll's methodology is accurate. But for the purposes of our discussion here we will use the RCP averages.

For Republicans to take control of the U.S. Senate they need at least five of the tossup seats. Three of those, KY,KS,GA are already in Republicans hands but still too close to call. Let's review all the tossups with the polling averages for the GOP candidate. Click each link for the latest polling for that race:

AK:Sullivan 4.4
CO: Gardner 4.4 Dem machine and vote fraud w/ mail in ballots makes this race problematic.
GA Perdue -0.2 trending towards the Democrat Nunn.
IA Ernst 2.5
KS Roberts TIE. No polls from the last ten days.
KY McConnell 4.4
LA Cassidy 4.8
NH Brown -2.6
NC Tillis -2

In both Georgia and Louisiana a runoff is required between the top two vote getters if no candidate reaches above 50%. It's likely that this will happen.

Voting analyst Sean Trende calculates that candidates with a positive polling number two weeks prior to an election have a better than even chance to win. For the most part I would agree. But Trende's analysis fails to take into account the Democrat vote machine operating in some of these states. Over the years I have repeatedly warned about the efficacy of the Dems voter turnout machine and this year is no different.  Highlighting the problem is this October 19 National Journal report from Iowa:
BALLOT CHASING

On a recent Wednesday, more than two dozen Democratic activists in Des Moines were dialing for Braley alongside Wadden. There weren't enough tables and chairs in the field office, so some of the younger volunteers sat cross-legged on the floor, phones pressed to their ears. In a quieter corner, two legally blind volunteers were making calls together; their service dog, Amber, milled about the office.

Democrats have 35 of these field offices across the state; Republicans have only 13 (not counting local organizations).

Iowa is one of the first states to begin voting, back in late September. Its election rules also allow for so-called ballot chasing—party officials or volunteers physically gathering ballots from voters to turn them in. It's a setup that benefits the best-organized campaigns.

Both parties have tussled who has a superior early-vote operation this year. Democrats boast that they are mobilizing people who would otherwise not have voted, pointing to unusually high numbers of voters who didn't cast a ballot in the last midterm. "We are literally expanding the electorate," brags Christina Freundlich, communications director for the Iowa Democratic Party.

Of the Republicans, Braley says, "If you just are targeting voters, to get them to vote early, who would have voted on Election Day, that's not how you're going to win this race."

National Democratic operatives say that Iowa is one of the states where the much-ballyhooed $60 million get-out-the-vote operation dubbed the "Bannock Street Project" will make the most difference. (Colorado is another.)

The fact that the Iowa race is within the margin of error in most polls heightens the importance of field operations.

Both sides acknowledge that Republicans were late to the ground game in Iowa, by not recognizing in previous cycles the importance of securing votes ahead of Election Day. "They are at the point now of realizing that early vote is the way to go. We're just a few cycles ahead of them on that," Freundlich says. "Every day is an election day. Election Day is just the last day to vote."
Boots on the ground means votes and for some reason the GOP still refuses to learn the lessons of 2006, 2008 and 2012. Even in 2010 the GOP lost several close races where the candidate was ahead. Harry Reid would no longer be majority leader if the GOP had equaled the Dems organizing effort in Nevada.

My own view is that any state where the GOP candidate is less than 4 points ahead of the Dem candidate there is reason for worry. Less than 2 points in states where the Dem machine is particularly strong and the GOP candidate may be in trouble. Taking all that into consideration I have utilized RCP's "create your own map" feature for Senate elections (and invite you to do the same) and came up with this likely scenario:


The shaky bets for my map are GA and KS. However, it's possible that if a larger wave favoring the GOP develops the GOP will secure CO and NC. Winning NH would be icing on the cake!

The bottom line is that the GOP is likely to retake control of the U.S. Senate. What's left to be determined is by how much and how many seats we might have won if we matched the Democrats ground game!

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