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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.

Kentucky GOP Senate candidate Matt Bevin slammed for speech at cockfighting rally

Bevin’s claim that the Founding Fathers were cockfighters is lampooned in new radio ad from Senator Mitch McConnell’s campaign

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

kentucky mugLOUISVILLE (CFP) — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is lampooning his Republican primary rival, Matt Bevin, for speaking at a cockfighting rally and then asserting that the Founding Fathers were “very, very involved” in the blood sport.

U.S. Senate candidate Matt Bevin

U.S. Senate candidate Matt Bevin

The McConnell campaign is airing a new radio ad calling Bevin “a comedy of errors” and playing an excerpt from The Colbert Report where host Stephen Colbert made fun of Bevin’s speech at the rally.

“Matt Bevin keeps making national headlines, but not in a good way,” the ad says. “Matt Bevin, a comedy of errors. But don’t let the joke be on you.”

Bevin spoke at a rally in Corbin, Kentucky, on March 29, sponsored by the American Gamefowl Defense Network. The group supports legalizing cockfighting, which is currently illegal in all 50 states.

In an subsequent interview with WHAS radio in Louisville, Bevin said he thought the event was a state’s rights rally and wasn’t aware it was in support of cockfighting. He also said he didn’t “condone the sport.”

“But here’s the thing: I’m not going to disparage people for exercising their First Amendment rights,” Bevin told WHAS, before adding an historical analysis that McConnell is now using in the radio ad:

“But it’s interesting when you look at cockfighting, and dogfighting as well, this isn’t something new. It wasn’t invented in Kentucky. For example, I mean, the Founding Fathers were all, many of them, very actively involved in all of this and always have been,” Bevin said.

The Humane Society of the United States’ Legislative Fund is calling on Bevin to drop out of the Senate race.

“Matt Bevin showed appalling judgment in associating himself with this band of lawbreakers and perpetrators of unspeakable animal cruelty,” said Michael Markarian, president of the group. “He’s brought discredit upon the state of Kentucky, and he should withdraw from the Senate race.”

Bevin, 47, of Louisville is a former investment adviser who now runs his family’s bell manufacturing company in New Hampshire. This is his first run for political office. His primary challenge to McConnell has drawn financial support from national conservative groups, including FreedomWorks and the Senate Conservatives Fund.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell

McConnell, 72, has been in the Senate since 1985. He was elected GOP leader in 2007 and would become majority leader if he wins re-election and Republicans pick up the six seats they need to take control.

Recent polling has shown McConnell with a wide lead in the primary race.

Whoever wins the Republican primary on May 20 will face Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes in the general election this fall.

McConnell is the Democrats’ top Senate target in 2014 and likely the only chance they have to pick up a seat anywhere in the South.

Mitch McConnell’s GOP challenger picks up another conservative endorsement

FreedomWorks, a conservative activist group with Tea Party ties, comes out for Matt Bevin

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

kentucky mugLOUISVILLE, Kentucky (CFP) — The conservative jihad against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky continues, with the group FreedomWorks endorsing McConnell’s Republican primary challenger, Matt Bevin.

Kentucky Senate challenger Matt Bevin

Kentucky Senate challenger Matt Bevin

“Matt Bevin is a great upgrade for Kentuckians who are serious about transparency, fiscal responsibility and accountability in government,” said Matt Kibbe, the president of the FreedomWorks, in a January 22 statement.

McConnell’s campaign dismissed the endorsement, accusing FreedomWorks of changing its focus “from conservative reform to conservative cannibalism.”

FreedomWorks, which bills itself as a champion of smaller government and lower taxes, has a history of backing anti-establishment candidates in GOP primaries, including U.S. Senators Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida.

The group is backing Bevin even though the its own scorecard of Senate votes this year gives McConnell a rating of 73 out of 100.

In 2010, the group endorsed Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock’s successful challenge to Senate veteran Richard Lugar. Despite Indiana’s Republican tilt, Mourdock went on to lose in November after he said that if a woman gets pregnant during a rape, the pregnancy is “God’s plan.”

Republican leaders, including former Bush political consigliere Karl Rove, have been critical of FreedomWorks and two other prominent groups, the Senate Conservatives Fund and the Club for Growth, for backing weak contenders in Republican primaries, in the process helping Democrats keep control of the Senate.

The Senate Conservatives Fund has poured nearly $1 million into Bevin’s campaign, counting both direct contributions and independent expenditures made on his behalf. The Club for Growth has not yet entered the Kentucky race.

Bevin, 47, of Louisville is a former investment adviser who now runs his family’s bell manufacturing company in New Hampshire. This is his first run for political office.

mcconnell

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell

McConnell, 71, has been in the Senate since 1985. He was elected GOP leader in 2007 and would become majority leader if he wins re-election and Republicans pick up the six seats they need to take control.

McConnell has a substantial financial advantage over Bevin, outraising him by a 10-to-1 margin.

Whoever wins the Republican primary will face Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is the only Democrat in race.

McConnell is the Democrats’ top Senate target in 2014 and likely the only chance they have to pick up a seat anywhere in the South.

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