Here at Daily Kos/Daily Kos Elections, that means it's time to roll out the power rankings for the month of August, based (as they always are) on the previous month's activity.
One thing we notice right away: The "primary effect" that colored the rankings for the past couple of months is all but gone. Races ascending the ladder because a lot of polling and electoral interest existed for the partisan primaries was a phenomenon since the spring, but with the vast majority of state primaries now in the books, that phenomenon only manifest itself in the placement of our top race this month, which would've been in the top few, in any event.
Evidence of the dissipation of the "primary effect" comes in our biggest mover this month. Michigan vaulted from out of the top ten into the No. 3 position this month, despite the fact that the identities of the two partisan nominees (Democratic Rep. Gary Peters and former GOP Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land) have been known since the beginning.
For the first time, half of the races topping the power rankings already had their primaries completed by the beginning of the focus month. By the end of August, it will likely be two states (and one of those isn't really fair, because Louisiana doesn't hold a traditional primary).
Head on past the jump to see who moved up, and who slid backwards, in heat of summer in the Daily Kos Elections Power Rankings for the U.S. Senate.
As always, anyone curious about the rubric used to determine these Daily Kos Elections Senate Power Rankings can see the description at the close of this piece.
One of the themes of this month was a gradual ramping up as the election season heats up. It wasn't quite as present in the top 10, where the point totals we saw this month were fairly comparable to last month, but it could be seen through the entirety of the 2014 U.S. Senate race roster. For example, after three months of rankings in which the number of states recording point totals in the double digits was in the teens (out of 36 total races), this month a total of 22 states hit that mark.
Part of that was due to the massive deluge of polling data from internet polling service YouGov, which landed with a thud in late July. Though our own Taniel pointed out some causes for concern with the polling, a vein of numbers that rich and that deep was going to catch a lot of attention. For our purposes, it meant that some classically under-polled U.S. Senate general election contests (Massachusetts and Wyoming immediately come to mind) finally got some hard numbers.
As a result of that YouGov onslaught of polling data, only a trio of states went unpolled and unsung in July: Alabama (where Republican Dick Shelby has no major party opposition), as well as Rhode Island and Delaware (where Democratic incumbents Jack Reed and Chris Coons are essentially unchallenged).
That meant that nearly two dozen states earned points, but missed the top 10. They were (in order from closest to the top 10 on down): Montana (sigh...OPEN SEAT—34 points); Kansas (Roberts—33 points); Tennessee (Alexander—20 points); Hawaii (Schatz—19 points); Minnesota (Franken—16 points); South Carolina "A" (Graham—15 points); South Dakota (OPEN SEAT—14 points); Virginia (Warner—14 points); Mississippi (Cochran—13 points); West Virginia (OPEN SEAT—13 points); Oregon (Merkley—12 points); New Mexico (T. Udall—10 points); Illinois (Durbin—8 points); New Jersey (Booker—8 points); Oklahoma "A" (Inhofe—8 points); South Carolina "B" (Scott—8 points); Idaho (Risch—4 points); Maine (Collins—4 points); Massachusetts (Markey—4 points); Nebraska (OPEN SEAT—4 points); Oklahoma "B" (OPEN SEAT—4 points); Texas (Cornyn—4 points); Wyoming (Enzi—4 points)
Now that the "second string" states have been dispensed with (football fans will appreciate the reference, and kickoff is looming, after all), here are the top 10 states that grace this "back to school" version of the Power Rankings:
#10—KENTUCKY (36 points)—DKE Rating: Leans Republican
(Last Month: 10)
Kentucky yet again hangs stubbornly in the bottom half of the top 10. If the most recent polling is to be believed, McConnell has bounced off the floor a little bit and re-established a slight edge over upstart Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes. But if we know one thing about McConnell, he seems to have a distaste for electoral prosperity. He can be counted on to mess the bed with some regularity, as he may well have done last week when he (without exactly invoking the word) seemed to threaten another government shutdown as a bargaining strategy when negotiating with President Obama. With the ebb and flow between a tough state electorally for Democrats and a Republican incumbent who can't seem to get out of his own way sometimes, this one could be on the boards until November 4.
#9—NORTH CAROLINA (38 points)—DKE Rating: Tossup
(Last Month: 6)
North Carolina, as predicted in the inaugural power rankings back in the spring, is going absolutely nowhere. Even in its quietest month, it remained a top 10 race in the power rankings. Somewhat akin to Kentucky, North Carolina is a race of contrary impulses where voters have two things they're angry about, and are left to decide which one is the bigger factor in their vote. As in Kentucky, the president's numbers in North Carolina are not particularly strong. However, his numbers are practically golden compared to state's Republican majority in the state legislature. The state legislature's polling numbers are downright freaking dismal, and Tillis (as the state House Speaker) is bearing no small part of the brunt of that. As a result, Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, who was seen as among the most vulnerable Democrats at the start of the cycle, is still clinging to the narrowest of advantages.
#8—NEW HAMPSHIRE (38 points)—DKE Rating: Likely Democratic
(Last Month: NR)
Yeah, yeah, yeah. New Hampshire got a lot of attention this past week because of this poll. Of course, the pollster (University of New Hampshire) is so prone to wild swings in short time frames that they are reminiscent of that old cliché about the weather in the summer in the mountains: "if you don't like it, wait 15 minutes. It'll change." It also led to one of the more blunt, to say nothing of hilarious, tweets of the week from Princeton election researcher Sam Wang:
#7—LOUISIANA (40 points)—DKE Rating: Tossup
(Last month: NR)
Louisiana returns to the top 10, despite the fact that it has been a fairly static race throughout. July did see a mild disruption to the race, as Paul Hollis, a Republican state legislator, called it a day and dropped out of the race (remember that, in Louisiana, all candidates run on the same ballot in November, with a runoff between the top two candidates only being necessary if no candidates earns a majority). It's impossible to see that as much as a game changer, though; Hollis was polling in the mid-single digits, and it seems likely that any support he might have had was going to get hoovered up by Republican Congressman Bill Cassidy, in any event. Therefore, as it has been for a long while, this race boils down to Cassidy, Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, and a likely runoff because neither candidate has been able to establish a lead greater than a point or two, and there are still several other minor candidates in the mix. A lot of outside money is liable to find its way into this one, and already has, as Americans for Prosperity began running a brutally negative ad here last month, which our own Joan McCarter did an excellent job of skewering when it came out in mid-July.
#6—IOWA (40 points)—DKE Rating: Tossup
(Last Month: 5)
We here at Daily Kos Elections moved this race to tossup earlier this month. And, while I would never speak for my colleagues, I was personally surprised that this race has degenerated into a coin flip. Democrat Bruce Braley has definitely taken some incoming in what has been a damned ugly race, but Republican nominee Joni Ernst seems like she is endeavoring to be the valedictorian of the O'Donnell-Angle-Akin (Mourdock... well, you get the idea) School of Toxic Republican Senate Candidates. The most recent example of her verbal exploits can be found in this piece by David Nir earlier this month. Iowa is not immune to flirtations with the GOP, but it's still a little hard to believe that a Republican who is "flattered" to be compared to Sarah Palin can get elected to the U.S. Senate from here. The polls, however, tell us it is absolutely possible.
#5—ALASKA (42 points)—DKE Rating: Tossup
(Last Month: 3)
Alaska was one of those late-breaking primaries, having just concluded last week. As a result, former state official Dan Sullivan earned the Republican nod to challenge Democratic Sen. Mark Begich. But, as DKE explored earlier this week, the fairly close second-place finish by 2010 nominee Joe Miller, another example of unelectable Republican toxicity, may have proven to be a little bit of a missed opportunity:
Surely it would have been worth attempting a Claire McCaskill-style ratfuck painting Sullivan and Treadwell as insufficiently purist while portraying Miller as the one true believer. As an added benefit, this would have been true! And it seems like a real missed opportunity, because Miller's performance against Begich in the polling averages was much worse than his two opponents'.Don't misunderstand the message: Begich still is more than holding his own with Sullivan, and has already started hammering Sullivan with a strong ad echoing the best barbs flung at him during the GOP primary. Not only can Begich beat Sullivan, the polling averages to date show that, despite the red lean of the state, he has a slight edge over Sullivan. Miller would've been close to a sure thing, though, but the polling data pre-primary (all of which showed Miller as a no-hoper in a distant third place to Sullivan and state Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell) might have left a false impression that Miller's defeat was a given.
#4—COLORADO (44 points)—DKE Rating: Tossup
(Last Month: 8)
Colorado moves back up the ladder, propelled in no small part by the fact that it is just such a damned coin flip. To wit: Of the 16 polls in the race to date, precisely one of them (a July Marist poll) had one of the two candidates leading by a margin greater than four points (they had Udall +7). There were five polls taken here in July: Udall led in three of them, Gardner led in two of them. Befitting Colorado's status as a "swing state," this one is razor-thin. Cory Gardner tried to get some mileage by personalizing his opposition to Obamacare by saying he was a "victim" of the policy, but some of the charges he made have merited some scrutiny. Gardner is also still struggling with the personhood issue, but we've said that so many times at this point we could practically cut-and-paste that sentence into every edition of the power rankings.
#3—MICHIGAN (48 points)—DKE Rating: Leans Democratic
(Last Month: NR)
Michigan rockets back into the power rankings this month, and rises all the way into the top three. Part of the reason was polling: Michigan was polled seven times in July. Democrat Gary Peters (who was endorsed by Daily Kos back in July) led in six of them, the lone holdout being the aforementioned YouGov/CBS polling effort. Indeed, Peters has led in all but two polls in the state since April. Last week, the Kochs, who had been spending hand-over-fist in the state, scaled back their ad buy here. That could be a sign that they see better opportunities elsewhere, or maybe they are, as others have been, underwhelmed by the Land campaign. There is no cause for complacency, though: Michigan is a state that may be a blue state in leap years, but can certainly flirt with swing-state status during the midterms. Peters is the betting favorite, but no one on his team is resting easy.
#2—ARKANSAS (51 points)—DKE Rating: Tossup
(Last Month: 2)
Arkansas has been one of a small handful of races never to leave the top 10, and it has actually spent more months than not in the top four. It's not hard to see why: The race pairs a Democratic incumbent in a state that hasn't elected many Democrats to federal office in recent cycles against a "rising star" Republican candidate whose performance in the campaign hasn't quite measured up to the hype. It is a recipe for a tossup, which is exactly what we've had pretty much since Day One. Arkansas also is a laboratory for a very interesting swing in campaign tactics. Recently, the Democratic Pryror campaign launched an ad in which Obamacare is praised tangentially by pointing out the benefits it had for the candidate's own family, specifically his father, the uber-popular former senator in the state, David Pryor. It might not be a bad strategy in a state where, thanks to Medicaid expansion, the rate of uninsured was halved over the past year.
#1—GEORGIA (60 points)—DKE Rating: Likely Republican
(Last Month: 4)
Georgia vaults to the top spot, and might be the last beneficiary in the 2014 cycle of that "primary effect" we've written so much about over the past few months in the power rankings. Georgia was one of two states that had a high-profile U.S. Senate partisan runoff, which concluded in late July with former Dollar General head David Perdue seizing the Republican nomination from veteran Rep. Jack Kingston in a mild upset. That set up the November showdown between Perdue and Democrat Michelle Nunn, an attorney and the daughter of popular former Sen. Sam Nunn. Perdue, benefiting from a little post-primary unity, starts the general with a modest advantage. Perdue does have some vulnerabilities, and Nunn is one of the best-funded Democratic challengers in the cycle. This is yet another contest where the battle between candidate strength versus terrain is going to be the story.
THE RUBRIC: Three criteria were used to generate our Daily Kos Elections power rankings. 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. Since there are no longer any "races to watch" (a designation reserved for races that could hinge on competitive primaries), that category is no longer a part of our power rankings.
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. This month, Alaska and Georgia shared the top spot, with fifteen mentions each.
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. Georgia led in this category as well, with ten polls conducted in the month of July.
The "tiebreaker", when races have the same number of points accumulated, is as follows: 1) The first tie-breaker is the number of mentions in the month ("newsworthiness"); 2) The second tie-breaker, should their number of mentions also be equal, is that the state that was lower in the rankings in the previous month gets the higher of the rankings among the tied races. If last month was also a tie, it goes back to previous months until the tie is broken.