Add Blanche Lincoln to the list of vulnerable Senators. A new PPP poll - the cycle’s first Arkansas survey - finds mediocre results for the Democratic Senator:
- 45% of respondents approve of her performance, while 40% disapprove. That might not be a catastrophic approval rating, but it certainly is nothing to boast about.
- When matched-up with two potential Republican opponents, Lincoln slips under 50%: She leads 46% to 38% against former US Attorney Tim Griffin and 48% to 37% against state senator Gilbert Baker.
- Neither Republicans is well known by voters: 58% of respondents have no opinion of Griffin, 55% have none of Baker. (While Griffin and Baker have yet to jump in the race, both are said to be mulling runs.)
It might not look surprising for a Democrat to be vulnerable in Arkansas, but do not let the state’s Republican trend in presidential elections fool you. Arkansas remains one of the bluest states at any other level: Democrats hold the governorship, both Senate seats, three of the four House seats and supermajorities in both chambers of the state legislature! In 2008, the GOP did not even manage to field a candidate - any candidate - against Democratic Senator Mark Pryor, and it was certainly far from obvious that Republicans would have a shot at unseating Blanche Lincoln in 2010.
PPP’s poll does not suggest that Lincoln is in any sort of hole and she is far from posting Dodd/Specter/Bunning/Bennet-like numbers. It remains to be seen whether the GOP will field a credible challenger, and Lincoln is expected to be one of the best-funded Senators up for re-election in 2010. Yet, there is little doubt that she is vulnerable.
For an incumbent to lead a low-profile opponent by single-digits and in the mid-40s does not inspire confidence. (PPP’s write-up of the poll makes numbers look better for Lincoln than they are. “Allocate the undecideds proportionately in those contests and you find Lincoln getting 54-56% of the vote,” it says. Of course, undecideds should not be allocated proportionately in a match-up featuring a well-known incumbent and a little-known challenger - which is of course any incumbent under 50% is deemed to be vulnerable.)
If Lincoln is vulnerable, Arlen Specter is already half-way buried! Two polls of Pennsylvania’s Republican primary were released today; and while Quinnipiac and Franklin & Marshall find contrasting numbers, there is no doubt that Specter is in a huge hole.
[An important caveat: Quinnipiac's sub-sample of Republican is 423, which yields a 4% margin of error. Franklin's sub-sample is only 211; that's a small number, and the results should not be treated as reliable indicators.]
- Quinnipiac has Toomey crushing Specter among Republican voters, 41% to 27%!
- Franklin & Marshall provides better news for the Senator, who leads 33% to 18%. The poll included Peg Luksik, who only received 2%. [Big caveat about the margin of error, see above.]
- Specter’s approval rating among Republicans in the Quinnipiac survey is disastrous: 29% approve, 47% disapprove. Among Democrats, his numbers are far better: 60% approve, 16% disapprove (!) Yet, Quinnipiac finds Specter narrowly trailing a generic Democrat, 33% to 31%.
Quinnipiac is one of the most reliable polling outfits, and they are experienced Pennsylvania pollsters. For them to find Toomey leading by 14% suggests that Specter’s prospects are dismal. Sure, Specter is leading in the F&M poll (the one with the unreliably small sample), but getting 33% is nothing to boast about. Swing State Project points out that Specter never trailed in a poll during the 2004 cycle, when he first trailed Toomey. The first survey for him was the 48-42 lead he posted in… a Quinnipiac poll! Specter ended up surviving by less than 2%.
In short: It is difficult to see how Specter could dig himself out of this hole - especially as there are no more prominent Republicans who could push him across the finish line, as George W. Bush and Rick Santorum did in 2004.
Two small consolations for Specter. First, his numbers are not as bad as those of David Paterson (who trails 67% to 17% in the latest primary survey)…. but that’s not saying much! Second, F&M’s poll suggests Specter would not face that strong a challenge by Peg Luksik if Toomey does not run - and Toomey still has not committed to the race. Yet, it is somewhat surprising to find Peg Luksik as low as 2%. She attracted large support in three different elections in the 1990s (more than 40% in 1990’s gubernatorial primary, more than 10% in the general elections of the 1994 and 1998 gubernatorial elections).
Frustratingly, neither poll contains general election trial heats, denying us a look at how Specter would fare against Democratic opponents. His high approval ratings among non-Republicans suggests he remains electable in a general election, though his numbers are poor when he is matched up against a generic Democrat.