Things appear to be looking up for Senate Democrats. While this year will be inherently very tough for Senate Democrats — they have 23 seats to defend compared to the Republicans who have only 10 seats up this year — the Democrats recently received several pieces of good news. Earlier this year there seemed to be a very good chance Republicans could take over the chamber, but recently that has begun to seem a more remote possibility.
In Montana, which should be one of the closest Senate races this year, new polling from PPP has incumbent Democrat Jon Tester with a lead for the first time in months. From PPP:
PPP’s first three polls on the Montana Senate race found the same thing every time: a 2 point lead for Denny Rehberg. Over the last six months though there’s been a shift and Jon Tester now leads Rehberg by a 48-43 margin.
Tester’s moved into the lead because of shifts with Democrats and independents. What was an 86-10 lead with Democrats is now 90-7. He’s been able to consolidate his base some. And although he already led independents by a 46-41 margin he’s pushed that advantage up further to 48-36.
Early this year, Indiana was assumed to be a safe hold for Republicans. But thanks to a bitter Republican primary, Democrats might have a shot at winning the seat. Polling shows incumbent Republican Dick Lugar could lose next week’s primary to State Treasurer Richard Mourdock. While Democrat Joe Donnelly would have a very tough time beating Lugar in the general, what little polling there is of the state shows he is competitive against Mourdock.
The retirement of Maine Republican senator Olympia Snowe two months ago moved what was a likely Republican hold to a likely Democratic pick up. Independent Angus King is currently seen as the overwhelming front runner. While he has not said which party he will caucus with, it is assumed he is more likely to side with the Democrats.
In Florida incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson is still polling well despite poor job approval numbers, because the GOP failed to recruit any top tier candidates. Florida could have been a real opportunity for Republicans, but they appear to have blown it. From PPP:
Nelson is up 47-37 on Connie Mack IV, 47-35 on Mike McCalister, and 48-34 on George LeMieux. Nelson’s advantage comes thanks to leads ranging from 24-33 points with independents over the Republican field and because he wins anywhere between 11 and 16% of the GOP vote in the three match ups, more than the share of the Democratic vote that he’s losing.
Nelson’s leads come despite having only a 36% approval rating, with 32% of voters disapproving of him. Even after decades at the center of Florida politics 33% have no opinion about him one way or the other. The main thing holding Nelson’s approval numbers back is that only 55% of Democrats give him good marks, but 80-81% of them still vote for him in head to head match ups against his GOP opponents. His 15% support from Republicans and 37/34 split with independents are decent.
In addition to the improving news for Senate Democrats at the state level, President Obama’s job approval numbers in April were the highest they have been in a year. Obama potentially doing better in the general should have some trickle down effect on lower ballot races.
Since the Senate playing field this year so strongly favors the Republican party, it is going to be extremely tough for Democrats to prevent losses in the Senate. But now the possibility of Democrats holding the chamber seems higher than it has been for most of the past two years.