After profiling the Senate long shot races two weeks ago, we are looking this week at the races that are clearly leaning in one direction but remain competitive. We have five such races, of which three seats are currently held by Democrats and two by Republicans.
New Hampshire (Shaheen-D) — Leans Democratic
A reasonably popular former governor and incumbent senator, Jeanne Shaheen would probably coast to reelection in most states. But a combination of New Hampshire’s volatile political climate—its state house has gone from 56% Democratic to 26% back to 55% in the last three elections—and a well-funded challenge from former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown has made this race contentious. The issue of residency has dogged Mr. Brown throughout the campaign, not helped by his repeated gaffes on the matter, while he has sought to nationalize the campaign and tie Ms. Shaheen to President Barack Obama, whose popularity in the state has steadily fallen since he won the state en route to reelection. But it is an inherently difficult task to unseat an incumbent who is as popular as Ms. Shaheen, and she has not trailed Mr. Brown in a single poll, though some show the race as close. We currently designate the race Leans Democratic, but unless Mr. Brown can generate momentum in the next few weeks, that designation will likely change for the bluer.
Michigan (Levin-D, Retiring) — Leans Democratic
Six months ago, polls suggested that Democratic Rep. Gary Peters was a narrow underdog in the race to succeed longtime Senator Carl Levin. But in a state that has tantalized Republicans in the last two presidential elections, absorbing significant Republican resources before being abandoned and giving double-digit victories to President Obama, Mr. Peters has gradually opened a lead over former Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land. The state’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder, is facing a stiff challenge of his own and has seen a substantial lead fade away. Coupled with a thoroughly underwhelming campaign from Ms. Land, we see Michigan as increasingly safe for Democrats. As with New Hampshire, time is running out for Republicans to position themselves here; this race will move to Likely Democratic if there is not noticeable movement in the next few weeks.
Colorado (Udall-D) — Leans Democratic
Unlike Michigan and New Hampshire, polling in the Colorado Senate election is uncomfortably close for Democratic Sen. Mark Udall. A race that seemed fairly safe until the surprise entrance of Rep. Cory Gardner (R) pushed it into the national spotlight, Mr. Udall has clung to a slim lead for the last six months. Attempts to tarnish Mr. Gardner for his support of a personhood amendment have seen limited success, while sagging approval for President Obama has kept the race close. While Colorado has been increasingly Democratic of late, Gov. John Hicklenlooper (D) faces a surprisingly tough reelection challenge and Mr. Gardner remains very much in the race. Mr. Udall has not squandered the advantage of favorable terrain, as Democrat Bruce Braley has done in Iowa (rated Toss-Up), but he has failed to open up as much breathing room as Mr. Peters and Ms. Shaheen have. This race is currently Leans Democratic, and it is the only one of the five profiled here that we do not see sliding toward “Likely” territory.
Georgia (Chambliss-R, Retiring) — Leans Republican
Democrats who think Georgia is ready to “turn blue” seized on the retirement of Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss to take the first step toward controlling the Peach State. While Republicans engaged in a vicious five-way pie-fight to pick their nominee, Democrats coalesced around Michelle Nunn, a non-profit executive and the daughter of ex-Sen. Sam Nunn. But while Democrats hoped that Republicans would pick one of the candidates with a history of inflammatory statements, they settled on former CEO of Reebok and Dollar General David Perdue. But Ms. Nunn has run a spirited campaign, taking advantage of her father’s popularity and her perceived independence from national Democrats, hitting Mr. Perdue on pay equality and his business background and highlighting her differences from the president. On the other hand, Mr. Perdue has focused his fire squarely on Mr. Obama and congressional Democrats. While polling has been all over the map, ranging from a seven-point lead for Ms. Nunn to a ten-point lead for Mr. Perdue, we give Mr. Perdue a clear advantage, especially because of Georgia’s election procedures. If neither candidate reaches fifty percent in November (a Libertarian, Amanda Swafford, will appear on the ballot as well), there will be a run-off in January. As a result, Ms. Nunn will have to put together a majority coalition in Georgia, a difficult task for Democrats who tend to peter out in the mid-40s.
Kentucky (McConnell-R) — Leans Republican
National Democrats had high hopes for unseating Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R), who faced brutal job approval numbers in his home state. They recruited Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, the scion of a prominent Kentucky political family, to challenge him and poured millions into the race. And while the race seemed neck-and-neck through the spring, Mr. McConnell has pulled ahead by a significant margin despite voters’ distaste for Washington insiders. As with Georgia, Kentucky is a difficult state for Democrats to pull past 45% in races for federal office, and the terrible unpopularity of national Democrats due to the perceived “war on coal” hardly helps. And as we saw in the 2010 reelection campaign of Mr. McConnell’s counterpart, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), party leaders are, to be blunt, good at this. And if Ms. Grimes wants to keep outside money from flowing to the real toss-ups, she’d better reverse her falling numbers quickly. If she can’t do it in the next couple weeks, this race is heading to Likely Republican in a hurry.