TOPICS > Politics

New poll gives Senate Democrats hope in the South

BY Terence Burlij, Domenico Montanaro, Simone Pathe and Rachel Wellford  April 23, 2014 at 9:11 AM EDT
Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina is in a tight race with state House speaker Thom Tillis, one of four southern Senate contests that could determine control of Congress next year, according to a New York Times poll. Photo by Mary Knox Merrill/The Christian Science Monitor/Getty Images

Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina is in a tight race with state House speaker Thom Tillis, one of four southern Senate contests that could determine control of Congress next year, according to a New York Times poll. Photo by Mary Knox Merrill/The Christian Science Monitor/Getty Images

The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • Southern states could hold fate of Democratic majority in Senate
  • Battle for women voters hits airwaves in Colorado, Michigan
  • In defense of Stu Rothenberg
  • Line items: Clawson wins Florida GOP primary, Dole heads back out on the trail, North Carolina GOP debate recap & more

Battle for control of Senate runs through the South: Wednesday’s New York Times headline that reads “Poll Shows Tight Senate Races in Four Southern States” has to be welcome news for Democrats hoping to hold on to the majority in the chamber next year. The Times’ Jonathan Martin and Megan Thee-Brenan write: “Four Senate races in the South that will most likely determine control of Congress appear very close, with Republicans benefiting from more partisan intensity but a Democratic incumbent, once seen as highly vulnerable, holding a surprising edge, according to a New York Times Upshot/Kaiser Family Foundation poll.” The survey shows Arkansas Democrat Mark Pryor with a 10-point lead over his Republican opponent, Rep. Tom Cotton. In North Carolina, Democrat Kay Hagan holds a narrow 42 percent to 40 percent advantage over GOP frontrunner Thom Tillis, the state House speaker. Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu has an early lead over a field of Republican candidates that includes GOP Rep. Bill Cassidy. The top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, is “effectively tied” with Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky. Just 40 percent of Bluegrass State voters approve of McConnell, while 52 percent disapprove. Republicans need to gain six seats to take control of the Senate. After West Virginia, South Dakota and Montana, which appear to be the most likely GOP pick-ups, three of the next four targets for Republicans are in the South (the other being Alaska). If Democrats are able to keep states like Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina competitive through November, and force Republicans to play some defense in Kentucky, then it will be a positive sign for the party’s chances of holding onto the majority in the Senate. The Times’ Upshot forecaster currently has Democrats with a 51 percent chance of holding the Senate, a shift from earlier this month when Republicans had a 54 percent chance of a takeover.

2014 watch — The war over women voters in Colorado & Michigan: A pair of television ads released Tuesday in Senate battlegrounds Colorado and Michigan signal that both parties are looking for an edge when it comes to women voters this year. In the Centennial State, Democrat Mark Udall’s first spot of the cycle attacks GOP Rep. Cory Gardner for his opposition to abortion rights and past support of a so-called “personhood” measure that would have granted an embryo the same legal rights as a person. It’s a familiar game plan for Democrats, who’ve used controversial statements by Republicans in past cycles (such as Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comment in 2012) to characterize GOP candidates as extreme when it comes to women’s issues. In the Wolverine State, Republican Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land has come up with a playful response to charges from Democratic Rep. Gary Peters that she — as a woman — is waging a war on women. As we’ve noted in this space recently, women voters have acted as a strong indicator of electoral success in recent years.

Elsewhere in the battle for 2014, Alaska Sen. Mark Begich released his latest re-election spot, “Polar Ice”, that again plays up his anti-Washington credentials. As with his previous ad, “Road”, Begich hops off his snowmobile to talk about how he fought his party and the Environmental Protection Agency to open up the Arctic to new oil and gas development. By touting his support of Alaska’s interests and his family’s roots in the state Begich is hoping to create some distance between himself and the Obama/Democratic Party brand in a state that Mitt Romney won by 14 percent in 2012.

Well, if you had to pick an upset: Speaking of Colorado, our colleague Stu Rothenberg wrote about becoming part of the political spin machine for saying that if he had to call an upset, it would be Gardner over Udall. As Rothenberg writes, he still tips the race in Udall’s favor slightly. But his pick of Colorado could have been ours, too, if you had to pick a dark horse. The choices would basically be Colorado and New Hampshire on the Democratic side and Mitch McConnell in Kentucky. Iowa, Michigan, and Georgia are open seats, though Michigan (if a Republican wins) and Georgia (if a Democrat wins) would be surprises given the respective bents of the states. Virginia is a longer reach, and Oregon and Minnesota are even further for Republicans, as is Mississippi for Democrats. So in a coin flip between the strength of the candidates in New Hampshire and Colorado, on a gut level, Colorado has seen some conservative backlash that could put Udall in more danger than Jeanne Shaheen or McConnell. It’s just a fun POTENTIAL upset pick. But how silly has our political system gotten? Do fundraising emails and blaring headlines go out if Charles Barkley or Kenny Smith says to watch Mercer over Duke? Not that that would ever happen…

Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1789, President George Washington moved into the first executive mansion in New York. What year did the White House become the presidential residence, and during what administration?
Be the first to Tweet us the correct answer @NewsHour, @rachelwellford, @DomenicoPBS, and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. No one guessed Yesterday’s trivia correctly. The answer was: William Ruckelshaus

LINE ITEMS

  • War heads? The U.S. is sending about 600 soldiers to Eastern Europe for NATO exercises as a direct response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
  • Businessman Curt Clawson won the GOP primary in Florida’s solidly Republican 19th district for the seat of former Rep. Trey Radel. After this ad, we’ll see if the former Purdue basketball player is invited for a game at the White House.
  • The Washington Post’s Dan Balz writes that Bob Dole has returned to his home state of Kansas this week and is “running for nothing but is nonetheless running hard.” Dole also tells the Wichita Eagle that he doesn’t think first-term Sens. Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have “enough experience yet” to run for president.
  • Arkansas GOP Sen. John Boozman underwent emergency heart surgery on Tuesday. Boozman’s office released a statement saying “he responded well.”
  • Jennifer Steinhauer examines the possibility of an all female presidential ticket in a time when there’s never “been so much rising female talent in the Democratic Party.”
  • Mitt Romney donated $10,000 to former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s legal defense fund.
  • North Carolina state House speaker Thom Tillis emerged from Tuesday’s GOP debate at Davidson College “largely unscathed” from tea party candidate Greg Brannon’s attacks on his conservatism. Early voting for the May 6th primary begins Thursday, and the four candidates will debate again on Wednesday and Monday.
  • Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., picked up the endorsement of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday. Politico’s Manu Raju looks at how Graham outmaneuvered the tea party and now appears to be on his way to winning re-election this fall.
  • Conservative lawmakers in South Carolina are taking on public universities, voting to cut funding for the College of Charleston and the University of South Carolina Upstate for assigning books with themes of homosexuality.
  • Americans for Prosperity is up with their second ad attacking New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen on her support for the Affordable Care Act. The group is also releasing ads in Louisiana, Colorado and Michigan Wednesday, Roll Call reports.
  • Matea Gold rounds up the new “max-PACs” Republicans are developing in the wake of the Supreme Court’s McCutcheon decision. Democrats don’t have immediate plans to create comparable fundraising operations to coordinate among their three party committees.
  • CNN reports the DNC has asked 15 cities to submit proposals to host the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
  • Massachusetts lawmakers advanced a measure Tuesday that would make the fluffernutter the official sandwich of the Bay State.
  • Wednesday is the 9th anniversary of the first YouTube video.
  • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.

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Questions or comments? Email Domenico Montanaro at dmontanaro-at-newshour-dot-org or Terence Burlij at tburlij-at-newshour-dot-org.

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