Every big Senate race just got closer

“There was a Tweedledee, Tweedledum attitude toward the parties,” said Mike Podhorzer, the AFL-CIO’s deputy political director. “When Toomey had his huge lead, it was definitely before voters knew how extreme his views were on outsourcing, Social Security.”

That’s no longer the case, he said, and “it’s changed the dynamics of the race.”

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The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and its candidates have moved to take advantage of the perception that the polls are moving their way. The DSCC leaked an internal survey showing Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway seizing a two-point lead over Republican ophthalmologist Rand Paul. In Missouri, Democratic Secretary of State Robin Carnahan’s campaign commissioned a PPP poll that placed her only five points down against Rep. Roy Blunt.

The GOP isn’t buying it. Whatever the latest individual polls say, Republican candidates have held durable advantages in states like Wisconsin and Kentucky for almost the whole general-election campaign. While some races – like the Sestak-Toomey matchup – have gotten much closer, it’s been thanks to millions of dollars in Democratic spending that can’t be matched in every state. Some underdog Democrats – like North Carolina’s Elaine Marshall and Louisiana’s Charlie Melancon – may tick up a few points here and there, but it’s hard to see how they would make up the rest of the gap before Nov. 2.

And if the 2006 and 2008 cycles are any guide, the races that end up balanced evenly on Election Day tend to fall toward the party on the upswing.

Republican strategist Brian Nick, who was the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s spokesman in 2006, spelled out that thinking: “I find it very hard to believe that, the last few days of an election, the undecideds are going to decide, ‘You know, I actually like the direction the country’s going in right now. I’m going to vote Democrat.’”

“We saw that in ’06,” he recalled. “If a state was very close, a state like Virginia, a state like Montana, obviously went to the Democrats.”

So while Democrats may be succeeding at driving up the negative ratings for Republican challengers, incumbents like Bennet and Feingold, along with well-known open-seat candidates like Manchin, could have a hard time making it all the way to the 50-percent mark.

“Michael Bennet has hit a ceiling and can’t go above it,” insisted Colorado Republican Party Chairman Dick Wadhams. “Has it shown it’s tightened, the last few weeks? Apparently those national polls show that, but Michael Bennet hasn’t gone anywhere and he’s the incumbent U.S. senator.”

If that dynamic holds across the map, it could bring Republican gains well beyond a five- or-six-seat pickup, to the brink of a Senate majority that was unimaginable at the start of the cycle.

“Each one of these beasts is its own beast,” Jackson, the Ipsos pollster, said of the Senate campaign. But, he added: “There’s nothing that’s really indicated that this would be atypical.”

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