Democrats See a Glimmer of Hope in New Senate Polls
Policy + Politics

Democrats See a Glimmer of Hope in New Senate Polls

With less than a month before a critical mid-term election, Democrats are beginning to see a glimmer of hope they can hang onto control of the Senate.

A new NBC News-Marist poll shows independent Greg Orman with a 10-point lead over embattled veteran Republican Sen. Pat Roberts in Kansas. If Roberts goes down to defeat, Democrats would wage a full-court press to convince Orman – a wealthy businessman – to caucus with them.

At the same time, Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina continues to hold a narrow lead over Republican challenger Thom Tillis, 44 percent to 40 percent. And Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley has slightly narrowed Republican Joni Ernst’s lead in the battle to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin in Iowa. The new poll shows Ernst, a fiery state senator and military veteran, leading Braley by just two points -- 46 percent to 44 percent.

Related: Dems Have 30 Days to Turn It Around and Prove the Polls Wrong   

Political analysts continue to give the Republicans a slight advantage in the overall race to claim control of the Senate in the Nov. 4 midterm election. In large measure, the GOP is holding that lead because of President Obama’s low approval ratings, which are pulling down Democrats in closely contested races.

While Obama’s national approval rating hovers around the low 40s, his job approval rating dips to only 39 percent in North Carolina, 39 percent in Iowa and a mere 35 percent in Kansas, according to the NBC-Marist survey.

And while employers added 248,000 jobs and the nation’s unemployment rate dropped two-tenths of a percentage point to 5.9 percent in September, the president and his party are getting little credit for the recovery – in part because of weak earnings growth, flat wage growth and persistent problems of under-employment or long-term unemployment.

Related: Jobs Jump, Wages Don’t--a Mystery for the Fed

In a speech late last week at Northwestern University, Obama said that while “I am not on the ballot this fall,” his economic policies “are on the ballot—every single one of them.” Republican attack ads that feature a clip of Obama’s remarks almost immediately began airing in Kansas, Kentucky and New Hampshire, The Hill reported.

Obama’s former senior adviser David Axelrod conceded that Obama made a tactical mistake with that remark. “I would not have put that line in there,” Axelrod said on Meet the Press, adding that “It was a mistake.”

With the Senate currently split 55 to 45 in the Democrats favor, the GOP will need a net pickup of six seats to reclaim a majority after nearly a decade in the minority – a goal that most analysts contend is within their reach.

The latest New York Times/CBS News/YouGov online panel of more than 100,000 respondents currently gives the Republicans at least a four percentage point advantage to finish with 50 seats, or just one shy of the 51 needed to take control. The Republicans four biggest opportunities for that final pickup are in Colorado, North Carolina, Iowa or Kansas.

Related: Why the GOP Can’t Count on a Midterm Wave Election

“Nonetheless, the data suggests that Democrats retain a clear, if difficult, path to victory,” wrote Nate Cohn of The New York Times. “Perhaps most notable, the data offers reasons to question the conventional wisdom that Republicans have recently made substantial gains in Colorado and Iowa.”

Perhaps the most shocking development from the GOP standpoint is the abrupt political collapse of Roberts in Kansas. The three-term Republican appeared on track to win another term after surviving a tough GOP primary.


But that was before Democratic nominee Chad Taylor dropped out of the race and essentially threw his support to Orman, a wealthy businessperson who is running as an independent. Roberts, 78, has been sharply criticized by Republicans and Democrats alike for losing touch with his state.

Related: Kansas Court Decision: GOP Senate Race No Longer a Slam Dunk   

Orman also appears to demonstrating some “cross-party appeal,” according to the NBC-Marist new survey. Seventy-seven percent of Democrats and 16 percent of Republicans say they support Orman over Roberts, yet just eight percent of Democrats support Roberts. That suggests that Roberts is losing two Republican voters for every Democrat he gains.

“He’s in a great deal of trouble out there,” Marist pollster Lee Miringoff said.  “He’s got high negatives, his intensity of support is low, he’s losing independents by more than two to one. His to-do list is rather large in the remaining time before Election Day.”

Top Reads from The Fiscal Times