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Four southern U.S. Senate races are still too close to call

GOP holding leads in Arkansas and West Virginia; Democrats holding tough in Georgia and Kentucky

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

southern-states-lgWASHINGTON (CFP) — Two weeks out from election day, races for four southern U.S. Senate seats — two held by each party — are still too close to call, with control of the Senate hanging in the balance.

The latest polling shows races in North Carolina, Kentucky and Georgia are within the margin of error, while the race in Louisiana now seems certain to be heading toward a December runoff.

Depending on how these Southern races turn out, the question of which party will control the Senate could linger for more than a month before runoffs in Louisiana and possibly Georgia.

U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton

U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton

However, Republicans appear poised to pick up an open Democratic seat in West Virginia, and GOP U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton appears to have opened up a small lead over incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Pryor in Arkansas.

Democrats hold only eight out of 28 southern Senate seats. One of those seats, in West Virginia, is likely gone, and three others — in Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina — are in jeopardy.

The good news for Democrats is that two GOP-held seats, in Kentucky and Georgia, have turned out to be surprisingly competitive, despite the Republican tilt in both of those states.

Here are the current states of the southern Senate races:

Arkansas: The race between Cotton and Pryor has been neck-and-neck for the better part of a year, as outside groups poured tons of money into the Natural
State. But a Talk Business and Politics/Hendrix College poll released October 15 showed that Cotton has opened up an 8-point lead, the third media poll in a row that put the challenger ahead.

Louisiana: Recent polling shows Democratic U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu and her chief Republican rival, U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, about even but both far from the 50 percent either would need to avoid a runoff in the state’s jungle primary, where all candidates from all parties run in the same race. That would set up a December 6 runoff between the two, a head-to-head match-up that’s still too close to call.

West Virginia: This race is to pick a successor to retiring Democratic U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller, and it looks increasingly like a GOP pickup, with U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito opening up a significant lead over Democratic Secretary of State Natalie Tennant. A CBS News/New York Times/YouGov poll in early October had Capito ahead by 23 points.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell

Kentucky: The Senate’s top Republican, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is in a pitched battle with Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. Recent polls have shown the race as either too close to call or with McConnell slightly in the lead.

Georgia: This race, to pick a successor to retiring Republican U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss, is a contest between two political newcomers, Republican David Perdue and Democrat Michelle Nunn. Despite Georgia’ GOP tilt, Nunn has run a strong race, and the latest polling shows the contest within the margin of error. An interesting twist in Georgia is that if neither Perdue nor Nunn wins a majority, they would meet in a runoff December 10 — a possibility if the race is close and votes are syphoned off by third-party candidates.

North Carolina: Democratic U.S. Senator Kay Hagan is seeking a second term against Republican State House Speaker Thom Tillis. Recent polling has shown this race is also within the margin of error.

Polls: GOP opens up leads in U.S. Senate races in Arkansas and Kentucky

New NBC polling shows U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell ahead

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

southern states ttankWASHINGTON (CFP) — Republican U.S. Senate candidates in Arkansas and Kentucky have opened up small leads over their Democratic opponents. according to new polling, which could be good news for the GOP’s chances to wrest control of the Senate from Democratic hands.

U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton

U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton

The NBC News/Marist polls, released September 7, showed Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton at 45 percent among likely voters in Arkansas, compared to incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Pryor at 40 percent. Cotton’s lead was beyond the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.

In Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had an even bigger lead over his opponent, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. Among likely voters, McConnell was the choice of 47 percent, compared to 39 percent for Grimes. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

Previous public polling had both of these races as toss-ups.

Part of what may be fueling the stronger showing by Republican candidates is President Barack Obama’s abysmal approval rating in both states.

In Arkansas, 61 percent of registered voters disapproved of the president’s performance, while only 31 percent approved. And more than 70 percent of Arkansans said the country was on the wrong track.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell

In Kentucky, Obama’s approval ratings were even worse, with 62 percent disapproving and just 31 percent approving. And nearly three-quarters of Kentuckians thought the country was on the wrong track.

The NBC/Marist poll also took at look at the open governor’s race in Arkansas. It showed that Republican Asa Hutchinson at 48 percent and Democrat Mike Ross at 39 percent, well beyond the margin of error.

Both Hutchinson and Ross are former members of the U.S. House. Incumbent Democratic Governor Mike Beebe is term-limited.

Poll: Arkansas U.S. Senate race is still a dead heat

Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton’s slight lead over U.S. Senator Mark Pryor is within the margin of error

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

arkansas mugLITTLE ROCK (CFP) — Less than four months before election day, a new poll in the U.S. Senate race in Arkansas shows a statistical toss-up between Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Pryor and his Republican challenger, U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton.

U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton

U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton

The Talk Business & Politics/Hendrix College poll of 1,780 likely voters showed Cotton with 44 percent support, compared to 42 percent for Pryor. That was within the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 2.3 percentage points.

The latest poll showed a slight shift from April, when Pryor held a 3-point advantage over Cotton. But the race still remains a toss-up, despite a deluge of negative television ads aired by both campaigns and their allied outside groups.

U.S. Senator Mark Pryor

U.S. Senator Mark Pryor

Cotton partisans have hit Pryor for his ties to President Barack Obama, particularly his vote in favor of Obamacare. Pryor and his advocates have hit Cotton as being a tool of outside billionaires and out of touch with Arkansas voters, highlighting his votes against the federal farm bill and disaster relief.

In the latest poll, Cotton held a nearly 17-point margin over Pryor among independent voters. But Pryor held a 5-point lead among female voters and a whopping 57-point lead among African-Americans, who make up about 16 percent of Arkansas’s population.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell turns back Tea Party primary challenge

In Georgia, David Perdue and Jack Kingston advance to July 22 Republican primary runoff

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

kentucky mugLOUISVILLE (CFP) — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell easily turned back a Tea Party-inspired challenge Tuesday to win the GOP nomination for a sixth term representing Kentucky.

Meanwhile, in Georgia, St. Simons businessman David Perdue and U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston of Savannah won spots in a July 22 runoff for the Republican nomination for the Peach State’s open U.S. Senate seat.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell

McConnell took 60 percent of the May 20 vote, compared to 36 percent for Louisville businessman Matt Bevin, who had the backing of outside Republican groups critical of McConnell’s leadership, including the Senate Conservatives Fund and FreedomWorks.

However, the commonwealth’s other senator, Rand Paul, bucked his Tea Party supporters to back McConnell.

McConnell will now face Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes in November.

U.S. Senate hopeful David Perdue

U.S. Senate hopeful David Perdue

In Georgia, Perdue and Kingston sat atop a seven-candidate field, with Perdue at 31 percent and Kingston at 26. Former Secretary of State Karen Handel of Roswel came in third at 22 percent.

Two other sitting U.S. House members, Phil Gingrey and Paul Broun, trailed the three front-runners. Some establishment figures in the GOP had expressed concern that a victory by either Gingery or Broun would turn the Georgia seat into a Democratic target in November.

Michelle Nunn, the daughter of former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn, easily won the Democratic Senate nomination for the seat current held by U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss.

Meanwhile, in Arkansas, Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Pryor and Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton both won their Senate primaries and will face off in November.

Asa Hutchinson and Mike Ross advance to Arkansas governor’s race

U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin wins Republican primary for lieutenant governor

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com

LITTLE ROCK (CFP) — Two former members of the U.S. House — Republican Asa Hutchinson and Democrat Mike Ross — will meet in November in the governor’s race in Arkansas.

Hutchinson, 63, easily won the GOP nomination on May 20, carrying 72 percent of the vote against Little Rock businessman Curtis Coleman. Ross, 52, won a lopsided victory in the Democratic primary over Lynette Bryant, a Little Rock physician, with 85 percent.

Hutchinson served two terms in Congress, representing northwest Arkansas, before being appointed in 2001 as head of the Drug Enforcement Administration. He has lost three previous races for statewide office, including an unsuccessful bid for governor in 2006.

After the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, last year, Hutchinson signed on as the point man for National Rifle Association’s effort to combat school violence without imposing any new restrictions on firearms.

Ross served 12 years in Congress, representing southern and western Arkansas, before retiring in 2012. In the House, he was a member of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition and was one of the few Democrats to vote against Obamacare when it came to the floor of the House.

Former U.S. Rep. Mike Ross

Former U.S. Rep. Mike Ross

Ross had initially said he would not run for governor, but he jumped into the race when the Democratic front-runner, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, withdrew after admitting to an extra-marital affair with a woman who was later charged with manslaughter.

In the primary races for lieutenant governor, U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin of Little Rock won the Republican nomination over two challengers. He will face Democrat John Burkhalter, a former member of the state highway commission from Little Rock, in November.

Arkansas U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin is running for lieutenant governor

Griffin, who announced in October that he was leaving Congress, enters a crowded GOP primary

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

arkansas mugLITTLE ROCK (CFP) — Less than four months after announcing he would leave Congress to spend more time with his family, U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin has entered the lieutenant governor’s race back home in Arkansas.

U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin

U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin

In interviews with local Little Rock media February 13, Griffin said serving as lieutenant governor would allow him to remain with his young children in Arkansas rather than living in Washington.

The state’s number two spot would also set up Griffin for a potential run for governor in 2018.

Griffin, a former U.S. Attorney and aide to Karl Rove in the Bush White House, won his seat in the Republican landslide in 2010 and easily won re-election in 2012. His decision not to seek a third term in the House – at a time when he had $500,000 in campaign cash on hand — surprised the Arkansas political establishment.

His entry into the lieutenant governor’s race has already shaken up the GOP prmary, with one of the announced candidates, State Rep. Charlie Collins, exiting the race. Still in the running are State Reps. Andy Mayberry and Debra Hobbs.

Hobbs had been running for governor but announced February 12 that she would run for lieutenant governor instead.

On the Democratic side, John Burkhalter, a state highway commissioner, is the only announced candidate and has been endorsed by the likely Democractic candidate for governor, former U.S. Rep. Mike Ross.

The lieutenant governor’s office is currently vacant after Republican Mark Darr resigned rather than face likely impeachment for ethics violations. The state legislature is currently considering a bill to leave the office vacant until after the November election, rather than calling a special election to replace Darr.

Analysis: Results in Arkansas Senate election bode ill for Democrats in November

Victory by an anti-Obamacare Republican in a Democratic district may forecast trouble ahead for Mark Pryor and Mike Ross

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

arkansas mugJONESBORO, Arkansas (CFP) — The results of a special election to fill a vacancy in the Arkansas Senate are making Natural State Democrats mighty nervous.ME sm

Republican John Cooper easily defeated Democrat Steve Rockwell in a district in Jonesboro, in the northeastern part of the state.

Rockwell was a moderate businessman in the image of Governor Mike Beebe and former U.S. House Rep. Mike Ross, the Democratic candidate for governor this year.

He was also running in a what had been a Democratic district, in a part of the state that traditionally leans Democratic.

But Cooper, a retired AT&T manager, based his campaign on opposition to the state’s private-option expansion of Medicaid to cover uninsured Arkansans — an expansion made possible by the federal Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare.

Rockwell supported the private option, which Beebe pushed through the legislature last year. While the propoal had substantial Republican support at the time, a strongly anti-Obamacare faction of the GOP was incensed and has been making their displeasure known ever since.

Cooper’s victory may imperil the private option, which will come before the legislature again this year. The first time around, it passed in the Senate with just two votes to spare, one of which was cast by the man Cooper is replacing, Paul Bookout.

But perhaps more ominously for Democrats, it indicates the potency of Obamacare as a issue Republicans can use in November.

Pryor, who voted for Obamacare, is being assailed for that vote at every turn by his Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton.

Ross may also face the backlash in the governor’s race. He supported Obamacare on a key vote in a House committee, although, in the end, he voted against it on the floor. But he has come out in favor of the public option in Arkansas.

Of the three Republicans in the gubernatorial primary, two —  Little Rock businessman Curtis Coleman and State Rep. Debra Hobbs of Rogers — have come out against the private option.  Hobbs voted against it; Coleman’s campaign Web site features a petition calling for its repeal.

The Republican frontrunner, former U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson, has not taken a clear position on the private option. However, he has been highly critical of Ross for his committe vote for the Obamacare bill.

Coleman and Hobbs have been trying to make hay out of Hutchinson’s lack of clarity on the private option. It remains to be seen if either one of them can ride it to victory in the primary.

But no matter who Republicans end up nominating, Obamacare is going to be the 800-pound gorilla in both the races for Senate and governor. And if the Jonesboro Senate race is a barometer of how it may play, that is not good news for Pryor or Ross.

Even more problematic may be the fact that the fight over the private option will dominate the upcoming legislative budget session, pitting Beebe and his Democratic allies in the legislature against a very noisy anti-Obamacare faction for weeks on end.

One potential silver lining for Ross and Pryor: If Republicans manage to torpedo the private option, as many as 250,000 Arkansans who will be thrown off the insurance rolls may get mad enough to fight back.

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