New polls of likely voters in three key states in next year's U.S. Senate election show Republicans running just behind incumbent Democrats. Harper Polling, a firm associated with Republicans and working on behalf of conservative super PAC American Crossroads, conducted surveys of likely voters in Alaska, Arkansas, and Louisiana, where those state's Democratic senators face reelection in 2014 (via Politico). In each of those races, most of the potential Republican challengers poll within single digits of the Democrat.
In Alaska, where Mark Begich is the rare Democratic senator, Republican candidate Mead Treadwell trails by one point, 43 percent to 42 percent, while likely GOP candidate Dan Sullivan trails Begich by two points, 43 percent to 41 percent. Begich is weakened in Alaska, which typically sends Republicans to Congress; just 39 percent approve of his job as senator, while 42 percent disapprove. Compare that to Alaskan voters' approval of Barack Obama's job as president, with 35 percent approving and 57 percent disapproving.
One Republican candidate, however, is substantially behind Begich in the poll. Joe Miller, who defeated Republican Lisa Murkowski in the 2010 primary but lost in the general election to Murkowski's write-in candidacy, trails Begich in the 2014 race by 27 points. While many Alaskan voters (about a third) remain unsure about their opinion on Treadwell, the lieutenant governor, and Sullivan, the natural resources commissioner, a clear majority of 66 percent say they have an unfavorable opinion about Miller. Begich ought to expect a tight race against either of the other two Republican candidates, but Miller's nomination would make it much easier for the Democrat to retain his seat.
Meanwhile, the race between Arkansas Democrat Mark Pryor and his Republican challenger, congressman Tom Cotton, remains close as well. The Harper poll found Pryor with a three-point lead over Cotton, 45 percent to 42 percent, despite the fact that the head of the Democratic party, Obama, remains deeply unpopular in Arkansas and voters say they would prefer to vote for the generic Republican over the generic Democrat for Senate (40 percent to 37 percent).
Much of Pryor's lead can be attributed to his approval rating (45 percent) and favorability rating (45 percent), which outpace Obama's approval rating (40 percent) in Arkansas. Cotton, a first-term congressman, remains much more of an unknown quantity; while 37 percent of likely voters have a favorable opinion of him and only 26 percent have an unfavorable one, 37 percent also say they're "not sure" of their opinion. The Harper poll numbers look similar to another recent poll, conducted by Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas, that showed Pryor leading Cotton 42 percent to 41 percent.
Next door in Louisiana, incumbent Democrat Mary Landrieu is in similar shape to her colleague in Arkansas. Her favorability rating is 47 percent, with 44 percent having an unfavorable opinion. She has a similar margin on job approval as well (45 percent approve and 43 percent disapprove). Like Pryor, Landrieu polls much better than Obama, who has 38 percent job approval and 57 percent disapproval in Louisiana. Her familiarity with Louisana voters is likely boosting her in her race against the leading Republican candidate, congressman Bill Cassidy.
Cassidy is 2 points behind Landrieu, 44 percent to her 46 percent, in the Harper poll. The Baton Rouge-area congressman similar favorable and unfavorablity ratings, in the low twenties, but a full 55 percent of those polled say they aren't sure of their opinion of him. This early in the race, that's not surprising, but in the meantime, Cassidy may have a tough GOP primary on his hands followed by a general election against a female candidate with a popular last name (Landrieu's brother, Mitch, is mayor of New Orleans, a position their father Moon also once held). Voters have quite some time to form their opinion of the conservative doctor and congressman.
With more than a year to go before the 2014 midterm elections, these polls in these key states show Republicans in a fair position to win gettable seats in the Senate. Events and personalities can and will affect these numbers. It's unclear, for instance, how the politics of the current government shutdown and budget impasse will affect Democrats in the Senate or Republicans in the House (like Cotton and Cassidy). There's also the factor of Obama and his signature domestic achievement, Obamacare. The president is unpopular in all three of these states, more unpopular than the incumbent Democratic senator. That could be a blessing for Democrats—with Obama not on the ballot in 2014 and not able to run for reelection in 2016, Begich, Pryor, and Landrieu can try to distance themselves from a president who will be a lame duck in 2015.
At the same time, all three senators voted for and have continued to support Obamacare, which remains unpopular throughout the country and particularly in their home states. Just as some Republicans were able to run in 2010 against Democratic senators who supported Obamacare—defeating Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas, for instance—so too could the implementation of Obamacare be an electoral boon for Republicans in these states.