Is the late-summer Democrat poll push fizzling?

On Thursday, Quinnipiac University released an astonishing poll on the Colorado Senate race, sending shockwaves far beyond the borders of that lovely state:

Colorado U.S. Sen. Mark Udall trails U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, his Republican challenger, 48 ??? 40 percent among likely voters, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. Independent candidate Steve Shogan gets 8 percent.

With Shogan out of the race, Rep. Gardner leads 52 ??? 42 percent, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University poll finds. This survey of likely voters can not be compared with earlier surveys of registered voters.

In the three-way matchup, Gardner leads Udall among men 53 ??? 34 percent, with 9 percent for Shogan. Women go 46 percent for Udall, 43 percent for Gardner and 7 percent for Shogan.

Independent voters go 42 percent for Gardner, 40 percent for Udall and 15 percent for Shogan. Republicans back Gardner over Udall 88 ??? 5 percent with 5 percent for Shogan.  Democrats back Udall over Gardner 90 ??? 3 percent, with 2 percent for Shogan.

Their mind is made up, 84 percent of Udall voters and 87 percent of Gardner backers say, while 63 percent of Shogan supporters say they could change their mind in the next seven weeks.

???With control of the US Senate in play, the Rocky Mountain State gives a jolting shot of adrenaline to the G.O.P,??? said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University poll.

???For Sen. Mark Udall, the head to head numbers are bad and the character numbers are worse.

???U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, for now, is in the driver???s seat in a race with national importance.???

As always, let us pause to note that any single poll can be an outlier.  Judging by the online reaction this morning, not many analysts seem to think this one is dramatically incorrect, but it’s always possible.

An eight-point lead for Gardner, jumping to 10 points if the independent candidate leaves the race, is an amazing surge.  This has been a neck-and-neck contest for quite some time, with both candidates stuck in the 40-point doldrums, unable to break into front-runner status.  True, conventional polling wisdom holds that the Forties are a worse place for incumbents to be, but on the other hand, most handicaps of this race have suggested Gardner needed a big partisan margin of support to pull ahead – more Republicans pulling for him than Democrats lining up behind Udall – and according to Qunnipiac, he seems to have pulled ahead without that advantage.

Instead, it looks like it’s a big swing of overall favorability toward Gardner – he’s ahead on general favorability, with Udall stacking up some pretty big negative ratings, and he’s winning on the key character traits, especially honesty.  What’s probably going to make Democrats around the country nervous is the size of the Obama albatross hanging around Udall’s neck:

Their U.S. Senate vote is a vote against President Barack Obama, 37 percent of Colorado likely voters say, while 13 percent say it is a vote for the president and 49 percent say Obama is not much of a factor.

That’s why friendly media has been downplaying Obama’s epic unpopularity, and creating plenty of space for Democrats to make these contests local while distancing themselves from the President.  Let me offer a bit of contrarian advice, and suggest that Republicans should not count on Obama’s unpopularity to bring them across the finish line.  The undertow of a failing presidency is a significant factor in midterm elections, but I tend to think that by the end of Election Day, a lot of people who are generally unhappy with the President will hesitate to fill out their ballots entirely or even primarily on that basis.  The sale must be closed.  Always be closing, Republicans.

Another hot race that might be swinging in the Republican direction is the Kansas Senate contest.  The movement here is less dramatic, but Fox News has incumbent Republican Pat Roberts head of “independent” (read: stealth Democrat) Greg Orman, 40-38, with the official Democrat candidate, Chad Taylor, still haplessly stuck to the ballot and pulling 11 points, despite suddenly trying to pull his name off the ballot when his Party decided to put its chips on Orman.  Roberts was thought to be seven or eight points in the hole against Orman on the day Taylor dropped out.  Fox thinks Orman will bounce back to a 48-42 lead if Taylor actually manages to get off the ballot… which is a remarkable illustration of the, shall we say, undemanding nature of Kansas Democrats.  11 percent of them are still going for the dead-duck official Democrat who’s begging the state Supreme Court to erase his name from the ballot, even as the entire Party leadership howls at them in unison to vote for their new BFF Greg Orman?  Wow.

40-38 is nothing to crow about for Roberts, even if it beats expectations, since he’s the incumbent Republican in a red state, and Obama’s poll numbers are pretty bad there.  (Presumably that’s one of the advantages Democrats saw in sand-blasting their Party’s hated name off the ballot and rallying behind a stealth candidate.)  There are some other polls that put him about where many people figured he’d be after Taylor bowed out, six or seven points down.  Roberts has been taking an interesting tack on the new campaign landscape, talking more about Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid than President Obama, as the Huffington Post reports:

Rather than primarily tying Orman to President Barack Obama, as other Senate Republicans have done in Kentucky, North Carolina, Arkansas and Louisiana, the three-term senator portrayed his challenger as a Reid-in-waiting — mentioning the majority leader’s name in almost every answer.

“The choice is clear, I am the only candidate on this stage that will vote to put Harry Reid out to pasture,” he said.

Orman, who has picked up steam in the polls, stuck to a bipartisan message that took both parties to task for historic levels of gridlock in the Senate. Again and again, on topics including immigration and Islamic State militants in the Middle East, Roberts would stake his position and Orman would follow by saying, “I agree with the senator.”

“I’m running as an independent to reject the false choices that the two-party system has presented us with,” he said.

Orman questioned Roberts, who is part of the establishment wing of the Republican Party, over his commitment to fiscal conservatism. And he criticized the senator for lobbing partisan attacks instead of laying out solutions to the country’s problems.

“I agree that Harry Reid is stopping progress on a lot of things, but so are the Republicans in the House,” he added.

Let me make this clear to Kansas voters: if you want gridlock, Greg Orman is your man.  He’ll keep Harry Reid in the Majority Leader’s chair, and Harry Reid is the living incarnation of gridlock.  The media covers shamelessly for him, so you might not realize how ruthlessly efficient he’s been at killing good bipartisan legislation from the House.


Another possible factor in Kansas, as in many other races, is immigration.  Switching over to a Brand X candidate helps Democrats escape the heavy negatives associated with the Party of Amnesty – a drag they didn’t seem coming, back when they were high-fiving each other over the Republicans committing suicide by alienating their base with the Gang of Eight bill, and thought President Obama’s amnesty executive orders would be a brilliant checkmate that simultaneously backed the GOP into a corner and reshaped the American electorate.  Amnesty is toxic now, and Orman’s on the wrong side of it, as comments from over the summer related by the Wichita Eagle illustrate:

On the issue of immigration, Orman called for stronger border security, but also suggested that illegal immigrants be required to register with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and pay fines or perform community service for entering the country illegally.

He said that illegal immigrants who work, pay taxes, obey laws and learn English should be eligible for citizenship.

???But it???s absolutely impractical to think that we are going to send home 11 million people and it???s absolutely ill-advised to do that. There are whole towns in the state of Kansas like Dodge City and Garden City that would just go away if we took such an aggressive approach to immigration. There are whole industries such as the agriculture industry that would suffer greatly,??? Orman said.

???I think people like to make partisan points with immigration, but at the end of the day I want a solution,??? he said.

Since October more than 57,000 children have crossed the U.S. border illegally without a parent or guardian, according to the Los Angeles Times. When asked about the influx of illegal immigrant children, Orman suggested a PR campaign to discourage parents in Latin America from sending their kids across the border alone.

Vague assurances that you favor “stronger border security” don’t cut it any more, the American people are in no mood to hand out 11 million free citizenships, and goofy nonsense about P.R. campaigns in Guatemala are no answer to Barack Obama’s manufactured border crisis.  In fact, Obama supposedly already launched precisely such a campaign in Central America – supposedly he was putting up billboards telling parents not to send their kids to America illegally, because they would be returned home.  The fact that absolutely none of them are actually being returned home counts for a lot more than a slick new P.R. campaign.  Portraying our titanic mega-government as utterly helpless to enforce immigration laws, while it dumps thousands of new laws on the rest of us every year, is not exciting outside-the-box thinking from an “independent problem-solver.”  Neither is asserting that entire towns in Kansas owe their very existence to cheap illegal labor, especially not in a country with a collapsing domestic workforce.

In the Iowa Senate race, Republican Joni Ernst finally opened up a lead against Democrat Bruce Braley, according to another Quinnipiac poll that has Ernest up 50-44 among likely voters.  This has been another ugly stalemate until now, as Fox News reports:

Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University poll, said in a statement put out by the university that while ???some pundits back east??? may have mocked Ernst???s ads in which she talked about living on a farm, ???they send an effective message to Iowans that she is one of them.???

There are signs, though, that both candidates in the race are trying to moderate their message after a long stretch of nasty advertising. Millions of dollars??? worth of personal attack ads have been clogging the airwaves all year, but Braley and Ernst are suddenly reversing course.

For Braley, that means a new ad highlighting what campaign aides say is his “record of crossing the party divide” to help small businesses in the Hawkeye State. The shift in tone is also a sign he may have maxed out his base support and is looking to close the deal with moderate Iowans who are still on the fence.

Ernst has a new ad of her own. In it, the Iraq War veteran describes herself as a “mom, soldier, and someone who really cares about the Iowa we leave for our children.”

That’s a far cry from earlier combative ads from Ernst, including one where she says she grew up on farms castrating pigs, and asks voters to send her to Washington to cut pork and “make ’em squeal.” Ads like that catapulted Ernst to the top of a once-crowded GOP primary field, but they???re still being scoffed at by Iowa Democrats.

Something tells me they might have scoffed enough to annoy Iowa voters who aren’t dyed-in-the-wool Democrats, which is maybe not the best strategy for an elitist Democrat lawyer who kicked off the current campaign season by mocking farmers in a farm state… and was then caught pretending to be a farmer while trying to spin his way out of the mess.  It’s not particularly encouraging that Ernst couldn’t open a lead against him until now, but at least she’s finally seeing some movement in her direction.

Fox News also has Republican challenger Bill Cassidy edging ahead of incumbent Senator Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, 35-31 – low numbers because it’s a four-way race.  One of the other two candidates is an outsider Republican, Rob Maness, who is pulling 7 points in a spectacular example of intra-party suicide.  Local media is wondering if Maness is really going to take this all the way to the hole and be part of keeping Harry Reid as Majority Leader, or if his voters might start moving toward Cassidy as Election Day looms.  Landrieu probably doesn’t have a chance if the Republican vote consolidates.

With formerly vulnerable-ish Senator Mitch McConnell pulling ahead of his challenger Allison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky (leading to the sort of “campaign reset” talk that conjures a mental image of defribilator paddles being pressed to the campaign’s chest), that leaves only one really bright spot for Democrats in the much-discussed do-or-die races that could decide control of the Senate: incumbent Kay Hagan in North Carolina, who looks to be holding a five or six point lead against Republican challenger Thom Tillis, speaker of the North Carolina House.  Hagan was widely viewed as one of the more vulnerable Democrats at the outset of this election cycle, but she’s beating those expectations, as well as overcoming the undertow of Obama’s approval ratings.  She might need to worry about voters abandoning the libertarian spoiler in the race, Sean Haugh, currently good for six points in Fox News’ poll.  Turnout me be a concern for her on Election Day too:

Most Democrats back Hagan (81 percent), while most Republicans back Tillis (76 percent).

Independents pick Tillis over Hagan by 12 points. Hagan also lost independents to Elizabeth Dole in 2008 — but just like then, today she benefits from the fact that more voters in North Carolina identify as Democrats than Republicans. And that???s what gives her the lead in this race.

Both Hagan and Tillis supporters have a fairly high degree of vote certainty (81 percent each). Overall, one in five may change their mind (19 percent).

The poll shows that 46 percent of women support Hagan. That???s down from the 55 percent she received in 2008 according to the Fox News exit poll. Men back Tillis by 44-35 percent.

Hagan tops Tillis among seniors, a group she lost to Dole six years ago.

If a Republican “wave” is the big story going into the homestretch, and dispirited Democrat voters don’t turn up at the polls, there could be an opportunity for Tillis.  For what it’s worth, the major component of the Democrat’s very expensive attack-ad blitz against Tillis just earned a couple of Pinocchios from the Washington Post (which kept the B.S. meter from overloading by noting that “it is correct that school spending has not kept pace with school enrollment, leading to cutbacks in classroom services” – it’s just the size of the gap, and Tillis’ legislative connection to it, that Democrats fabricated  and distorted.)  Another wild card could be the National Rifle Association’s decision to spend $11.4 million in several tight Senate races, including North Carolina.

Late summer brought a rash of stories that the Republican “wave” crested too early, their advantage was slipping away, and their odds of taking the Senate were dropping to 50/50 or worse.  Some of that might have been due to a Democrat spending surge, which was a wise investment on their part, because they couldn’t afford to let all the buzz about a Republican wave become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  The big question in some of these tight races is whether Republicans can now spend their hoarded money wisely in the last few weeks of the campaign.  Election waves are not much use to those who don’t know how to surf them.

Update: One of the dark clouds hovering on Senator Kay Hagan’s otherwise encouraging horizon is that she’s not doing nearly as well among women voters as she did during her last race.  That’s interesting in light of recent polls that show Democrats losing their polling advantage with women nationwide, from generic party preference surveys to President Obama’s approval numbers, and it’s so pronounced that certain media outlets feel obliged to avoid mentioning just how big the preference swing has been.  (About 13 points, in one New York Times poll.)  Nothing would turn that Republican wave into a Godzilla-scale tidal wave like Democrat support among women crashing.