U.S. Senate Battleground: GOP Retains Lead, But Democrats Are Making Gains Among Independents by Gregory Hilton

PHOTO: Joe the Plumber (Joe Wurzelbacher) who achieved fame during the 2008 presidential campaign is shown after endorsing former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle (R-NV) in the U.S. Senate primary. Angle has spoken at over 40 Tea Party gatherings and is expected to win tomorrow. Her controversial views could result in the re-election of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). Both of Angle’s primary opponents perform far better against Reid.

The outlook for the Republican Party continues to be optimistic, but there are now some storm warnings on the horizon. Republicans lost independent voters by significant margins in 2006 and 2008, but this year the political outlook has changed dramatically because of GOP gains among independents. Republicans continue to have the lead among independents nationally, but their margins are diminishing in several of the key battleground Senate races.
Senate candidate Rand Paul (R-KY) continues to have the lead, but his margin has collapsed by 18% in a three week period. His controversial statement on the 1964 Civil Rights Act resulted in every Kentucky Republican State Senator co-sponsoring a resolution strongly endorsing the bill.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) continues to have high negative ratings, but national Republicans are now worried that he could beat Sharron Angle because of her controversial views.
Angle is a former Assemblywoman and is expected to win tomorrow’s GOP primary. Similar to Rand Paul, her victory will be a tremendous triumph for the Tea Party movement.
The Tea Party Express was also out in force at last month’s Utah State Republican Convention which denied Senator Bob Bennett (R) a slot on the primary ballot. The ideological outlook of the delegates was reflected by the fact that over 60% of them said they would oppose the renomination of Sen. Orrin Hatch in 2012.
Hatch is considered one of the most conservative members of the upper body. Similar to Rand Paul and Sharron Angle, Senate candidates Mike Lee (R-UT) and Chuck DeVore (R-CA) have made isolationist statements. They both have spoken of a need to pull U.S. conventional forces out of Afghanistan.
DeVore is expected to come in third place in tomorrow’s primary. The GOP nomination will go to former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina (R-CA). Republican primary voters will reject former Rep. Tom Campbell who is running six points ahead of Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) in recent surveys. Fiorina has been endorsed by former Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK) and the National Right to Life Committee, but it has always been difficult for a pro-life candidate to win statewide in California.
The Good News for the GOP
The Gallup Poll generic ballot released on June 1st gives Republicans a 49-43 advantage, which is the best the party has done since 1950. The GOP has gained 16% since 2008, and if the election was held today Republicans would pick up 46 seats and would control the House of Representatives.
The Bad News for the GOP
In addition to the alarm bells in Nevada, Kentucky and California, the GOP leads in Senate races in Colorado, Missouri, Illinois, Florida and Ohio have been diminished. The decline has come overwhelmingly from independent voters. These are the voters who gave Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) a 32% lead over Martha Coakley, Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-VA) a 30% lead over Creigh Deeds, and Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) a 23% lead over former Gov. Jon Corzine.
According to a survey released today by Public Policy Polling (PPP), Democrats are still losing independents in 7 of the 9 key Senate races. The difference is that their average loss among independents has been reduced from 15% to 7%. This is also a huge difference from the average 28% lead which was seen a few months ago in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts.
A spokesman for the Democratic PPP firm said today:

Democrats still have a lot of ground to pick up with independents but things are looking much better than they were six months ago. Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) are actually now leading by small margins among independents in our most recent polls. We have also seen a significant increase in independent support for Senate candidates Alexi Giannoulias (D-IL) and Elaine Marshall (D-NC).

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