New polls confirm the battle for control of the Senate is indeed a knife fight

Posted at 2:03 PM, Sep 13, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-13 16:03:03-04

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said this week that the race for control of the Senate is so close it is like a “knife fight in an alley.” New polls released on Wednesday back him up, but also show that Republicans are still favored to maintain their control.

Fox News found the races in Arizona, Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota and Tennessee are all within 4 percentage points. Republicans are up in Indiana, North Dakota and Tennessee. Democrats are up in Arizona and Missouri.

The averages in some of these races — such as Arizona (a little more friendly to Republicans) and Tennessee (a little more friendly to Democrats) — differ slightly with Fox News. They mostly tell the same story, though: Democrats have an uphill battle for control of the Senate.

Democrats would need to win at least four of these five states to have a realistic shot of gaining that control. (They need a net pickup of two seats overall.) The closeness of the races means that’s certainly possible. But while the outcomes are correlated, it’s a little much to expect Democrats to sweep the board given the current polling.

The good news for Democrats is that the strongly pro-Democratic national environment gives them a better shot than you might think. The bad news is that the states the Senate battle is being fought in are not friendly to Democrats.

None of the states polled by Fox News were won by Hillary Clinton in 2016. Only Arizona was a single-digit race.

The Senate battleground states not polled by Fox News are not much friendlier ground for Democrats. The two other close states Democrats likely need to also succeed in are Florida and Nevada. Polls out over the last week suggest that is easier said than done.

Democrat Jacky Rosen was ahead of Republican Sen. Dean Heller by less than a point in a Suffolk University poll of Nevada released earlier this week. Clinton won Nevada, but only by 2 percentage points.

Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson may actually be slightly behind Republican Rick Scott in the Florida Senate race. That’s a state Clinton lost by a point.

Back in 2006, Democrats did manage to win all the close battlegrounds, except for Tennessee, to gain control of the Senate. That example demonstrates that wave years can sweep a party into office even in under difficult circumstances.

Going six for seven as the Democrats need to do, however, isn’t likely.