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On a quiet polling Friday, one result out of the Heartland definitely qualified as headline news. You see, few people had freshman Republican Rep. Kristi Noem high on the endangered list in South Dakota's lone House seat. And yet, if a new independent poll out of the state is to be believed, she is locked in an absolute coin toss of a race when paired with Democratic nominee Matt Varilek, a former staffer to Sen. Tim Johnson.

On a day when the rest of the polling numbers fit in the realm of "as-expected," that one was a pretty unexpected result.

On to the numbers:

PRESIDENTIAL GENERAL ELECTION TRIAL HEATS:

NATIONAL (Gallup Tracking): Obama d. Romney (47-45)

NATIONAL (Rasmussen Tracking): Romney d. Obama (47-43)

SOUTH DAKOTA (Nielson Brothers): Romney d. Obama (49-43)

DOWNBALLOT POLLING:
IN-SEN (Rasmussen): Richard Mourdock (R) 42, Joe Donnelly (D) 40

SD-AL (Nielson Brothers): Rep. Kristi Noem (R) 47, Matt Varilek (D) 46

WV-03 (Anzalone-Liszt for Rahall): Rep. Nick Rahall (D) 62, Rick Snuffer (R) 34

A few thoughts, as always, await you just past the jump ...

For a while now, Democrat Matt Varilek has had the feel of a "sleeper candidate." He has a solid resumé, has raised decent cash, and seemed to be flying below the radar of the pundit class.

Today's poll probably goes at least some of the way towards putting Varilek on the radar. Now, before Democrats get too excited, there are two cautionary notes to strike here. Noem has never polled particularly well with this outfit (which is locally-based polling outfit with a bit of a track record in the state). Indeed, when former Democratic Rep. Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin was still weighing a bid, a Nielson Brothers poll last Fall had her leading Noem by over 20 points. While only the most optimistic Republicans would dare suggest that this electoral climate is just like 2010, an erosion of 23 points since November of 2010 seems ... well ... a bit of a stretch.

Furthermore, the Nielson Brothers poll also had presidential numbers that seem to be somewhat optimistic. Their poll gives Mitt Romney the lead in what has been historically a red state, but with a margin of just six points. Given that in a solid Democratic year in 2008, John McCain still carried the state by eight points, a smaller advantage in 2012 doesn't pass the immediate eye test, to be sure.

However, it would fit into a trend that has materialized in the polls by this particular outfit. Last November, Nielson Brothers gave Mitt Romney an 18-point edge (47-29). By February, that margin was down to nine points.

The problem, in this case, is that because South Dakota is on no one's presidential swing state roster, it seems highly unlikely that another poll will be coming down the road any time soon to contradict or confirm this particular survey. Meanwhile, I cannot imagine we will see a release from Team Varilek—the odds of their numbers looking better than this poll is pretty remote. And, as some campaigns this year seem to have forgotten, there is absolutely zero benefit in releasing a private poll that actually is less optimistic than available public polling. Let the public polls do your framing for you, if they can.

So, the only hope for contradictory data will come from the incumbent. If Kristi Noem's campaign is smart, and they have numbers better than this, they ought to lay those cards on the table. And sooner rather than later.

In other polling news ...

  • It was amusing to read someone on Twitter today take the approach that I myself often take when I see a Democratic-friendly poll from the House of Ras (such as today's Senate poll from Indiana continuing to show a coin flip). The essence of the tweet was—"If Rasmussen has it this close, I wonder what the real state of this race is." I wonder that, as well, but the problem is one of a legal nature. Indiana is one of a small handful of states that do not allow IVR or "robo" polling. That limits the number of firms that can go in and examine the state of play in the Hoosier State.
  • Few states have changed as dramatically at the presidential level than West Virginia over the last quarter century. Therefore, in a presidential election year where Barack Obama will be lucky to break 40 percent in the state, a certain level of vulnerability is immediately assumed for Democrats running in the state downballot. Perhaps sensing this, the campaign for the lone remaining Democratic House member (longtime veteran Nick Rahall) seems to have used this latest poll as an exercise in inoculation. And, given the gaudy margins here, it just might work. I don't think anyone saw this as a race where Rahall could double up Rick Snuffer. Of course, it was only a few years ago (2004) when Rahall did just that. But West Virginia has changed quite a bit since then, to be sure.
  • The trackers continue to represent alternate realities, as we head into the weekend. Gallup has been remarkably consistent, while the president's numbers in the Rasmussen poll have taken a bit of a dive. However, the president's job approval numbers via Gallup have taken a slight hit this week. Given that the approval numbers are based on a three-day track, and the horse race numbers are on a seven-day track, stay tuned—if I had to bet, I'd bet on a slight erosion in Obama's numbers on the Gallup tracker as we head into next week. Of course, given the president's much stronger numbers in stand-alone national polling (and even more so in state-by-state polling), his comparably weaker standing in the daily trackers may not mean a whole heck of a lot.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Elections on Fri Aug 03, 2012 at 05:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by South Dakota Kos and Daily Kos.

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