Surprising Senate Polls

It has become commonplace in modern day campaigning to see surprising polls particularly as political prime time begins reaching its apex. Often, the survey reports are anomalies, but sometimes they suggest a true upset brewing.

In the past few days, we’ve seen some polling data released from a couple of states and races that have so far not captured much national attention. Several new polls in the Colorado Senate race suggest that the contest featuring Sen. Michael Bennet (D) and construction company owner Joe O’Dea* (R) is becoming legitimately competitive. Turning to Indiana, a new surprising survey release finds Sen. Todd Young* (R) only running a few points ahead of his virtually unknown Democratic opponent, Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott.

Are these outlier polls, or contests that warrant national interest? Since literally every Senate race could mean a change in majority control during the next Congress, each such competitiveness clue should be examined.

While the Colorado Senate contest has been on the edge of competitiveness for quite awhile, three new polls suggest this is a political battle that deserves more coverage. The most surprising from the trio of recently released surveys come from the Tarrance Group, which tested the Centennial State electorate for the Republican Attorneys General Association (8/22-25; 600 CO likely general election voters; live interview). Tarrance finds the Senate race between incumbent Bennet and challenger O’Dea unexpectedly separated by only one point, 48-47%.

Two others see the race somewhat differently. The Trafalgar Group (8/22-25; 1,087 CO likely voters; multiple sampling techniques) posts the contest at 47-42% in Sen. Bennet’s favor. Finally, the most recent survey, from Public Policy Polling (8/30-31; 782 CO likely voters; interactive voice response system), sees Mr. Bennet holding a 46-35% lead. 

Even this last survey, however, contains political warnings for the Senator. President Joe Biden’s job approval, for example, is decidedly upside down at 43:51% in a liberal state that he carried with a 13-point cushion two years ago, and Mr. Bennet is well below the 50% support level. The latter number is always a red flag for any incumbent.

Hoosier State Democratic US Senate nominee Tom McDermott’s campaign this week released the results of their recently conducted Change Research poll (8/20-24; 2,111 IN likely general election voters; online) that posted Sen. Young to only a 45-42% lead. 

Indiana’s Senate race had been considered non-competitive. The Young campaign responded with criticism over the online methodology and weighting system that Change Research employs. Therefore, expect the Republicans to quickly counter this data with a poll release of their own.

There has been no other indication that Sen. Young is in any re-election difficulty. Despite what the Change poll proclaims, the race is likely trending in the incumbent’s favor by a spread well beyond the polling margin of error. Additionally, Indiana voting history clearly favors Republicans, and it is difficult to see a state such as this dumping a GOP Senator at a time when the national political climate will likely favor his party.

A further example comes in the area of campaign finance. Through the June 30th campaign finance disclosure deadline, Sen. Young had raised just under $13.3 million to Mr. McDermott’s $661,105. The cash-on-hand figures favored the Senator, $6.8 million to just $165,000. Therefore, it is unlikely that Mr. McDermott could pull together the type of campaign necessary to deny Sen. Young re-election with just over a month before people start casting early votes. 

Additionally, since there are more reasonable Republican targets for the outside Democratic and left-of-center Super PACs to challenge, it is hard to see a scenario where big outside money would come to Indiana to invest in such a long shot challenge race.

The Colorado situation is a bit more realistic as an under the radar target scenario. While only five polls have been conducted in the entire election cycle, Sen. Bennet consistently scores only between 46 and 49 percent. Again, we see the pattern of pollsters finding a consistent pattern for the Democratic candidate but an irregular one for the Republican. In the five polls, including the three aforementioned, Mr. O’Dea registers a wide swing between a 35 and 47% support factor.

The money count clearly favors Sen. Bennet. He held over $8 million in his account at the June 30th book closing deadline as compared to Mr. O’Dea’s $842,000, which was, at that time, a 10:1 ratio in dollars to spend. Chances are good that the O’Dea campaign balance sheets have improved since the end of June, but there is no doubt that Sen. Bennet continues to hold a monetary advantage.

Outside money in this race, however, is in a different status than our comparison Indiana race. Since the Colorado campaign has always been on the competitive cusp, outside organizations have made allowance for potentially having to spend in this state’s media markets. 

Looking at the advantages for both sides, and particularly the Colorado voting trends since the middle of the last decade, Sen. Bennet is the clear choice to win again in November, but the closing campaign days merit watching even so. 

We can expect more long shot races to reach the forefront, but how many actually have staying power becomes the real question. 

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