Senate polls find GOP in strong position in Arkansas, Delaware

Whenever a Republican manages to receive the support of 20% of those who approve of Barack Obama’s performance, Democrats have reason to worry. And that’s exactly what they’re facing in the Delaware Senate race, where the latest PPP poll finds that Mike Caste really is as formidable a Republican candidate as the GOP could have hoped for. Pitted against Beau Biden - the only match-up with which Democrats have a chance of staying competitive - Castle leads 45% to 39%.

Back in March, Castle was up by 8%, so this is not an example of Democratic fortunes collapsing as 2009 has gone by. Biden isn’t helped by the decline of Obama’s approval rating (from 63% to 53%), though in the spring Castle was already enjoying strong support among independents and a solid crossover support. Now, he leads 52-23 among independents and 79-10 among Republicans; Biden only manages a 65-20 advantage among Democrats. While both candidates enjoy a positive favorability rating, Castle is very popular (55-28) whereas voters are ambivalent towards the vice-president’s son (43-35).

The good news for Biden (if he intends to run, of course) is that the internals suggest this is as low as it can get for him: It’s hard to see him receiving any less than 65% of Democrats and 23% of independents. In fact, convincing the remaining undecided Democrats should be enough for him to close the gap in a state with a wide partisan unbalance. Yet, that might not be easy since a plurality of Democratic voters say Castle is ideologically “about right.” The DSCC will spend most the next year airing anything that might make the congressman look right-wing (starting with his votes against most of Obama’s legislative priorities), but Delawareans have been living with this man since 1980; they won’t easily be convinced that he is not the person they seem to think he is.

If Democrats are at a risk of losing Delaware’s Senate seat, the situation is far more urgent in Arkansas. Two new polls were released today, and both of them confirm that Blanche Lincoln is one of the most endangered incumbents in the country.

First, Rasmussen found catastrophic results for the senator. Weighed down by a 43-52 favorability rating and by Obama’s 34-65 approval rating, she trails all four of her potential Republican rivals: 46-39 against Kim Hendren, 47-41 against Gilbert Baker, 44-40 against Curtis Coleman and 43-40 against Tom Cox. In short, most voters who do not have a favorable opinion of Lincoln are eager to vote for her challenger - no matter who he is; for a two-term incumbent to trail someone as low-profile as Cox suggests voters are desperate to get rid of her.

Research 2000 has Lincoln in a stronger position - not in terms of her favorability rating, which is again negative (41-50) but certainly in terms of direct match-ups: She leads all four trial heats, some of them by decisive margins. She’s up 42-41 on Baker, 44-39 against Coleman, 45-31 against Cox and 46-30 against Hendren.

The disparity between Rasmussen and Research 2000 is stark, but Democrats don’t have that much comfort to glean from the latter. For one, the big leads she pulls against Cox and Hendren are primarily due to the fact that, in these match-ups, there are far more undecided Republicans and undecided independents than they are undecided Democrats. Second, a 1% lead against Baker is nothing to boast about given that the name recognition differential. Third, trendlines are worrisome for Lincoln, who led Baker by 7% in Research 2000’s September poll.

Interestingly, Research 2000 tested a potential Democratic primary between Lincoln and Lieutenant Governor Brian Halter: Lincoln leads 42% to 27%, a showing that’s more than weak given that the advantage of incumbency is far more dominant in a primary context. This not only indicates Halter might have a path to the nomination, but it’s also a sign of general election trouble for Lincoln: 32% of her party have an unfavorable view of her, so she certainly cannot rely on heavy Democratic turnout next year.

(In the general election, Halter trails Baker 42% to 34% and Coleman 40% to 35%; he leads Hendren 36% to 31% and Cox 36% to 32%. The disparity between Lincoln and Halter’s results is significant, but it can partly be explained by the fact that far more Democrats than Republicans are undecided in the first two match-ups.)

Rasmussen’s poll also confirms I was right to categorize Arkansas as one of only 5 states that are hosting uncompetitive gubernatorial races: Democratic Mike Beebe is a rare governor whose approval rating remains strong in the current economic conditions, 70% to 28%.

Utah’s Bob Bennett highly unpopular, but hard to see how Democrats take advantage

A new poll finds another senator who is highly unpopular: Utah Senator Bob Bennett. Deseret News finds that only 27% of respondents think Bennett deserves a fourth term, while a massive 58% desire someone new. That’s a dismal showing, and in most states it would be reason for the opposing party to celebrate - but this is Utah we’re talking about: Much of the dissatisfaction over Bennett is coming from his own party’s right. (I wrote a post about why Bennett is finding himself in trouble last month.)

In an atypical poll question, respondents were asked who they would want as senator among a list of 7 candidates - 6 Republicans and 1 Democrat (Sam Granato, who is the state Liquor Control Commission Chairman). Only 31% chose Bennett, underscoring just how low a base of support the senator has; 14% went with Granato; 17% divided themselves between the 5 remaining Republicans: Cherilyn Eagar, Tim Bridgewater, Fred Lampropoulos, Mike Lee and James Russell Williams. (I wish they had tested Jason Chaffetz, who might have been a more familiar name to respondents.)

Remember that the first step of the nominating process is a state convention. If the senator is receiving the support of only 31% of the electorate at large, he should seriously be worrying about where he might end up when his fate will be in the hands of party activists, a group that is far more conservative.

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