The two dominant themes of the second round of the Daily Kos Elections Senate Power Rankings are, quite frankly, contradictory. They are: continuity and change.
As it turns out, the exact same set of Senate races grace the top 10 in the Power Rankings for the second consecutive month. No new races crack into the countdown, and none of April's entries dropped out. However, only one of them stayed in the same position as last month. And there was one major mover up the charts, and one that dropped like a rock (I called the latter one, for what it is worth).
All in all, we have the same leader at the top of the pyramid, and for even more predictable reasons than last month. After that, it gets rather interesting.
Follow me below the fold for the second edition of the Power Rankings, and learn why Republicans have cause to be optimistic about November, while at the same time understanding why Democrats might be breathing a little easier than they were on the April 1.
Before we begin, though, let's review the criteria for the DKE version of the Senate Power Rankings:
THE RUBRIC: Three criteria were used to generate our top 10 list. One is competitiveness. This was done rather easily, utilizing our DKE Senate race ratings. If a race had been designated by the Daily Kos Elections crew as a "toss-up," that netted that race 15 points. If the race was designated as a "lean" D/R race, it was worth 10 points. If the race was designated as a "likely" D/R contest, it was worth five points. Finally, the small handful of "races to watch" netted a mere two points. In April, since no major changes took place in our ratings, these stood pat.As was the case in our inaugural edition in early April, we found that the overwhelming majority of races scored at least one point via this metric. Indeed, only 10 of the races on this year's docket (which totals 36 contests) went pointless. Eight were repeats from last month: Alabama (Sessions), Delaware (
The second criteria is newsworthiness. Some races, for lack of a more elegant way of putting it, have more going on than others. The criteria here was also objective: a Senate race received a single point for every day in which it was mentioned in a Daily Kos Elections Daily Digest. There was some pretty wide discrepancies here. Some races were extremely popular—the leaders on this metric for the month of April (North Carolina and Georgia) were mentioned in more than half of the digests this month.
The final criteria is "pollworthiness". Media outlets, campaigns, and polling firms are not going to poll a race for nothing. The more intriguing races are going to get more data points, typically. So, four points were awarded for each poll conducted (primary or general) in a given state's Senate race.
Sixteen races, meanwhile, managed to receive at least one point for the month of April. They were (in order from closest to the top 10 on down): Oregon (Merkley—24 points); Minnesota (Franken—21 points); Mississippi (Cochran—20 points); Montana (Walsh—19 points); Nebraska (open seat—17 points); South Dakota (open seat—13 points); Virginia (Warner—13 points); West Virginia (open Seat—11 points); Oklahoma "B" (open seat—8 points); Maine (Collins—7 points); Kansas (Roberts—6 points); South Carolina "A" (Graham—6 points); Hawaii (Schatz—5 points); Illinois (Durbin—4 points); New Jersey (Booker—1 point), Texas (Cornyn—1 point)
Looking at the whole picture, Republicans still have some cause for confidence, in the simplest of terms. Only two of the 16 competitive races (as determined by our DKE race ratings) are held by Republicans. Only a cheerleader (and a myopic one, at that) could deny the fact that the Democrats are going to be playing a lot of defense in this 2014 Senate cycle.
That said, the last month has to be considered one in which the Democrats, on balance, have to be breathing a small sigh of relief. While the map is still more hostile than not, the numbers improved for Democrats in several critical races. Arkansas is the most notable example (where a pair of polls this month, in a reversal of fortune that seems difficult to believe, gave incumbent Democrat Mark Pryor a 10-point edge), but the bigger picture is that, unlike some previous months, the numbers were either stable, or slightly more optimistic, in many of the battleground races.
In sum, as Markos noted in a piece two weeks ago, it would be inaccurate to say that the numbers support the foregone conclusion of a GOP-controlled Senate come 2015. But there is also absolutely zero reason for Democrats to feel any sense of comfort, since they are almost entirely on defense.
With the overview complete, and with movement aplenty, here are the "Ten That Matter" in the U.S. Senate:
#10—NEW HAMPSHIRE (26 points)—DKE Rating: Likely Democratic
(Last Month: 4)
Yup ... not to toot my own horn, but I nailed this call. In last month's edition of the Power Rankings, the showdown in the Granite State debuted in the top five, propelled in no small part by the announcement that former
Massachusetts extreme Southern New Hampshire Sen. Scott Brown was going to make a bid to unseat Democratic incumbent Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. I noted at the time that I expected this race to drop back in the running order, overtaken by other races that would prove to be more competitive, and thus more newsworthy. Indeed, after an initial flurry of polling (all but one of which showed Shaheen staked to a modest, but real, lead), interest waned quite a bit this month. This state, as it happened, was one of the few not only to drop in terms of the overall order, but in the raw number of points, as well.
#9—ALASKA (32 points)—DKE Rating: Tossup
(Last Month: 5)
I fully expect Alaska to be somewhere in the Power Rankings from here until November. Indeed, the "drop" in position here is attributed more to other Senate races getting a lot more attention, as opposed to interest receding in Alaska. That, more than anything, is likely owed to the fact that Alaska, unlike many of the states ahead of it in the Power Rankings, has a relatively late primary election date (August 19).
#8—KENTUCKY (34 points)—DKE Rating: Leans Republican
(Last Month: 10)
This one ticked up a couple of notches this month, and I suspect it might be an upward trajectory that will have some staying power. An interesting dollop of data late in the month tells us why: Not only is the general election matchup between Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes still a dead heat, but it looks like the primary battle is tightening as well. The poll showed McConnell still holding a double-digit lead over GOP challenger Matt Bevin, but the margin (51-34) was the closest we have seen to date.
#7—GEORGIA (37 points)—DKE Rating: Likely Republican
(Last month: 6—Tie)
Georgia is another state that could be on the rise, for two different reasons. The first is the upcoming primary. Just over two weeks away, Georgia voters will head to the polls. The Democratic Senate primary seems to be a foregone conclusion, as Michelle Nunn appears to have the race locked down. Polls show, meanwhile, that the Republican Senate primary could be a real humdinger. Expect May to be a month of big interest in Peach State politics. Downstream, however, this state could still climb after the primary. This race, by a healthy amount, is the highest-rated race in the Power Rankings sporting a "Likely" DKE race rating. Others are more bullish on the chances of the Democrats here, and if Nunn keeps looking strong (or the GOP melts down in an intrasquad donnybrook), this race could move into a more competitive tier. Those extra 5-10 points could move this race well into the top five. Georgia's unique rules (general elections go to a runoff if no candidate breaks 50 percent of the vote), however, temper some of that enthusiasm.
#5 (tie)—IOWA (41 points)—DKE Rating: Leans Democratic
(Last Month: 8)
Iowa's upward move, quite candidly, was a bit of a surprise. The catalyst for the upward movement appears to be the very close-fought GOP primary to take on the presumptive Democratic nominee (Rep. Bruce Braley). The Republican primary was polled by three separate outlets this month, and a clear top tier has formed in the pairing of state Senator Jodi Ernst and wealthy businessman Mark Jacobs. Jacobs, in a move that might have endeared him to one percenters and absolutely no one else, made his bid for the U.S. Senate sound like the ultimate act of charity. In a statement reported by MSNBC, Jacobs took the tone-deaf route of explaining that senators (who make $174,000 a year) don't "make that much money." Whoops. The primary takes place June 3.
#5 (tie)—LOUISIANA (41 points)—DKE Rating: Tossup
(Last Month: 3)
Louisiana's slight dip this month, I suspect, is owed to the same reason as Alaska. Alaska, as noted earlier, has a late primary. But for all intents and purposes, Louisiana doesn't have a primary at all. Technically, the state holds a "primary," but it is an all-party affair that falls on Election Day in November. There is a second reason why Louisiana has slid down the list a bit: The main players appear to be set. Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu and Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy have almost made this a head-to-head battle, as fellow Republicans Rob Maness and Paul Hollis are in Nowheresville, at least according to recent polling. That might actually play into Landrieu's hands, because a failure to get to 50 percent-and-one means that Landrieu and Cassidy would face off in a low-turnout runoff on December 6. It's hard to imagine being forced into a runoff being a net benefit for the Democrats here.
#4—COLORADO (42 points)—DKE Rating: Leans Democratic
(Last Month: 2)
Interestingly, while most of the top ten thus far has had their news value set this month by compelling primaries, three of the top four have general election contests that are already set in stone, more or less. What's more, in terms of raw point value, they are essentially tied. Colorado, which became a top-tier race the second Republican Rep. Cory Gardner reversed course and jumped into the race, is likely to be a top-five affair throughout. Polls here were remarkably consistent this month. Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Udall has, in all but one poll, a lead of 1-3 points over Gardner, who spent the early part of the month still trying to navigate the personhood issue that tripped him up out of the gate.
#3—MICHIGAN (43 points)—DKE Rating: Leans Democratic
(Last Month: 6—tie)
Longtime readers of Daily Kos Elections (and SSP, before that) know that a regular source of irritation for us is the lack of consistency (and, quite often, quality) of the polling that comes out of Michigan. Unlike Colorado, where every poll save one was in a nice narrow range, the polling out of Michigan this month was ... well ... very Michigan. Depending on the pollster of choice, either Republican aspirant Terri Lynn Land is up by a half a dozen points, or Democrat Gary Peters is up by five points. One thing that is less murky: Land may well have run one of the most insipid ads of the campaign cycle thus far. If clicking the link is too taxing, here's the synopsis: Republicans can't be waging a war on women, because Land is ... a woman. Not for any policy positions she might hold, but because she is ... again ... a woman. Strikingly effective, dontcha think?
#2—ARKANSAS (44 points)—DKE Rating: Leans Republican
(Last Month: 9)
If I am going to puff out my chest triumphantly about foreseeing the drop in interest in New Hampshire, I might as well cop to being way off the fairway about Arkansas. Last month, I noted that interest might be waning because of the growing sense that incumbent Democrat Mark Pryor was the presumptive underdog here. So what happened in April? Seven polls, in which Republican Tom Cotton led in only one of them. Barring some kind of reversal in May, we could be headed back on the road to a tossup.
#1—NORTH CAROLINA (72 points)—DKE Rating: Tossup
(Last Month: 1)
It was a reasonably close (six point) lead for the Tar Heel State last month. In our second edition of the Power Rankings, it has degenerated into a rout, as North Carolina leads by nearly 30 points over its nearest rival. And why not? North Carolina has virtually everything necessary to draw eyeballs to the state. It has a very competitive primary that is in the very near future (as in, roughly 48 hours away). It has a Democratic incumbent who either leads or trails by three points or less in the overwhelming majority of the polling to date. In addition, that polling, which forecasts a tossup, has been quite consistent. In this week's primary, new polling hints that state legislator Thom Tillis might be moving into a lead large enough to avoid a runoff. The Senate Majority PAC clearly seems to think Tillis will be the ultimate challenger for Hagan: the organization came out this month with a hard-hitting ad that immediately set Team Tillis into full outrage mode.
Speaking of that North Carolina primary, DKE's own Darth Jeff will be along in the very near future with a preview of the ballot battles in the Tar Heel State, as well as the primaries in Ohio and Indiana, all of which will take place this coming Tuesday.