Hopefully, everyone in the Daily Kos/DK Elections community is in the midst of a restful and festive Labor Day holiday. Just as Labor Day marks a symbolic close to the summer months, it has also historically marked a symbolic opening to the "real" meat of the election cycle. If politics has been on the back burner for most folks since the polls closed in 2012 (or 2013 for a handful of states), that is bound to end in the coming weeks.
If the final weeks of an election cycle are a sprint to the finish, Labor Day acts as the starting gun for that sprint.
Thus, this was as good a time as any to introduce the Power Rankings for the states, which of all of the DKE Power Rankings offerings, is arguably the most comprehensive and the most oriented towards the election date in November. Because we have actually moved into the month of September, this edition of the Power Rankings actually incorporates information from both July and August (since we did not have a state set of Power Rankings for last month).
Head past the fold to see which states appear to becoming increasingly important as we head into November.
For those interested in the criteria, which have changed with the incorporation of the polling data, please flip to the end of the piece.
There has been a lot of movement within the top 10 with this set of the Power Rankings, which may well reflect the longer period of time covered in this edition (two months, as opposed to one).
Two states dropped out of the rankings (California and West Virginia), both of whom only barely fell out of the countdown (12th and 13th, respectively). In their place, we see two states debut on the Rankings: Georgia (which has two white-hot statewide campaigns) and Minnesota (which actually edged out fast-rising Kansas because of the sheer volume of races on tap in the state).
There was also ample movement within the top 10. Part of this was owed to the fact that August saw a real flurry of ratings changes, something that strongly impacts the state-by-state Power Rankings, and something we had not seen much of in the prior months. Almost certainly, however, the bigger factor was the "doubled up" amount of polling fed into the scoring rubric. That, without question, drove Michigan into the top two, given that there were nearly two dozen polls conducted there since July 1st. It's also what allowed Illinois to creep up a couple of slots, even as Illinois' gubernatorial election was actually downgraded from a tossup to a race we view as leaning to the GOP.
All in all, no matter the placement in the countdown, all 10 of these states are going to be on the radar into November. It is telling, in that respect, that several of these states have been in the top tier throughout the history of these Rankings, the one gracing the top spot (for the second month in a row): Iowa.
#10—MINNESOTA (22 points—Six competitive contests)
Last month: NR
Minnesota is one of those states that may not have a bunch of coin flips, but has a bunch of races that could easily fall into that category between now and November. That includes the two statewide elections, the nominees for which were selected in primaries earlier this month. Both Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Democratic Sen. Al Franken have established polling leads, but they are far from locked down. Downballot, Democrats have to be increasingly concerned about their grip on the northeastern 8th district, where Democrat Rick Nolan is facing an extremely well-funded opponent in businessman Stewart Mills. Elsewhere, however, Democrats caught a break when a primary night upset occurred in the state's southern tier (MN-01), leaving veteran Rep. Tim Walz to battle with lightly-funded Republican Jim Hagedorn.
#9—GEORGIA (25 points—Three competitive contests)
Last month: NR
No one would have predicted on Labor Day 2013 that Georgia would be a must-watch state come the midterms. The House seats seemed uniformly locked down, save for one (John Barrow's seat in GA-12). Several bad cycles, and a pretty solid gerrymander, had left the Democratic bench barren enough that the two statewide races seemed like a long shot. A lot, quite obviously, has changed. Democrats looked to their future ... and their past ... as they nominated two young candidates with two sterling surnames to carry the torch. And, sure enough, both Jason Carter (who is challenging Gov. Nathan Deal) and Michelle Nunn (who is squaring off with David Perdue in a battle to replace retiring GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss) are holding their own, and keeping these races winnable for the blue team. Meanwhile, an interesting recent article hyping Republican chances leaked an interesting tidbit: even GOP internal polls have the aforementioned John Barrow leading, and over 50 percent, in his bid for re-election.
#8—FLORIDA (28 points—Four competitive contests)
Last month: 5
Florida slips a few spots this month, even though the Sunshine State may well have the single most-watched race in the Union with the Scott-Crist showdown for Governor. It's not the only race on the radar in Florida, however. One poll this month, in a bit of a surprise, actually had sophomore Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL 02) losing to his Democratic challenger Gwen Graham, albeit narrowly. On the bright side for Republicans, they arguably got their best challengers in the two vulnerable Democratic seats on the radar (FL-18 and FL-26), as potentially unelectable Republicans got knocked out in the primary.
#7—NEW HAMPSHIRE—Six competitive contests)
Last month: 9
New Hampshire creeps up a couple of spots this month, propelled in part by a ton of polling. One of those polls, of course, got a ton of attention last week, when it showed Scott Brown pulling awfully close to incumbent Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. David Nir penned an excellent cautionary note about that poll, but that is a race that is going to get an outsized amount of attention no matter what, given the players involved. In one note of interest, not related to the Power Rankings, New Hampshire is one of the few states left with a pending competitive primary. On September 9th, Granite State voters head to the polls, and there is a great deal at stake with potentially important Republican primaries in NH-Gov and NH-02, as well as a nominal primary challenge to Scott Brown in NH-Sen.
#6—ILLINOIS (29 points—Six competitive contests)
Last month: 8
Illinois also bumps up a couple of slots, even though Daily Kos Elections actually downgraded this race from a tossup earlier this month. The reason it moved up was a glut of polling, which actually helped in that decision to move the race from a tossup. Until this summer, it seemed, every poll emanating out of the Land Of Lincoln was from a conservative unit with a particular ax to grind in this race (We Ask America, which is a subsidiary of Illinois manufacturing interests, had done the bulk of the polling). But July brought pushback from Democratic allies of Gov. Pat Quinn in the form of Democratic polling. The problem? Even their polls had Quinn down to Republican challenger Bruce Rauner. That said, Quinn allies are correct to point out that he trailed markedly in 2010, and pulled out the win after the natural terrain of the state (which is pretty blue) tugged him across the finish line. That late break to the Democrats, plus a raft of competitive House battles (including one in IL-12, where freshman Bill Enyart seems to be in a race that is becoming an increasing source of concern for Democrats), make Illinois a state that will get a lot of attention on Election Night.
#5—NEW YORK (34 points—Nine competitive contests)
Last month: 3
Unlike the big risers this month, who largely moved up on the strength of polling interest, New York drops a couple of spots for the same reason. And it is not entirely surprising. What makes New York a race to watch is the ton of competitive U.S. House races, plus the battle for control of the state Senate. A safe rule of thumb in summer polling this cycle has been not to expect much polling that is not statewide. And the lone major statewide race on the ballot (NY-Gov) is a wipeout. New York has its local/legislative primaries in eight days, and if there is one thing that is mildly surprising to me, it is that the curious New York media hasn't polled the Democratic primary to see if Gov. Andrew Cuomo is going to be smacked with a large symbolic protest vote, or if he is in any peril at all.
#4—COLORADO (37 points—Six competitive contests)
Last month: 2
I have to speculate that people from Colorado must be prone to hanging up the phone, or really mean to pollsters when they do connect on the call. What else would explain why a state with two very competitive statewide contests gets polled as infrequently as this state does? Colorado, like New York, dips a couple of spots, largely because it was passed over by states that have been surveyed more often. In total, nine states (including Massachusetts and Kansas) have had more released general election polls in the last two months than Colorado. It's a bit stunning, really, especially when the small smattering of polls we have seen have shown evidence of tightening in the gubernatorial battle between Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and Republican challenger Bob Beauprez. One would think the comparative polling drought will end here, and soon.
#3—ARKANSAS (38 points—Five competitive contests)
Last month: 4
Arkansas, in the past weeks, has been one of the relatively surprising reservoirs of good news for the Democrats. A state that has been reddening, it seems, with every passing week, Arkansas nonetheless looks at least open to the prospect of keeping their Democratic incumbent senator (a Rasmussen poll this week had Sen. Mark Pryor moving back ahead of Republican Tom Cotton, after the previous Ras poll had Cotton up four points). Meanwhile, the gubernatorial race (albeit in scant polling) might be edging back toward competitiveness, as well. What really sets Arkansas apart, though, is that late last month we actually got some independent House polling, and they confirmed a legitimate potential pickup opportunity for the Democrats, as GOP nominee French Hill only leads his Democratic rival (Pat Hays) by a single point in AR-02, which has been in GOP hands since Democrat Vic Snyder retired in 2010.
#2—MICHIGAN (40 points—Seven competitive contests)
Last month: 7
The big mover this month was Michigan, and with good reason. The state was the most-polled state in the region, propelled by a critically important Senate contest between Democrat Gary Peters and Republican Terri Lynn Land and a rapidly-tightening challenge to Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, where Democrat Mark Schauer has essentially pulled even with the incumbent. Michigan is one of those states where across-the-board state Republican control has not worn particularly well. The open question now is whether Snyder will be the target of that discontent come November, and to what extent a very effective gerrymander of the state legislature will keep Democrats from making headway toward re-establishing a majority in the state legislature.
#1—IOWA (41 points—Eight competitive contests)
Last month: 1
Iowa, yet again, graces the top of the charts in our state-by-state Power Rankings, and for the same reason it has been at or near the top throughout the year: because there is apparently no such thing as an uncompetitive race in the Hawkeye State. Arguably the most one-sided affair in the state is the governors race between incumbent Republican Terry Branstad and Democrat Jack Hatch. But even in that race, Branstad is not exactly slamming the door on Hatch, polling in the mid-to-high 40's with a lead usually around 12-14 points. But that's practically a blowout compared to the rest of the ballot, where Iowa's open seat Senate race (pitting Democrat Bruce Braley against Republican Joni Ernst) has quickly morphed into the closest race on the Senate calendar. Want a stat of the day? The last six polls in that pitched Senate battle have been so close that you have to go back to mid-June to find a poll where the margin was greater than a single point! Yep, the last six polls there have either been perfectly deadlocked, or have shown either Braley or Ernst up by one point. There is some reason to believe, by the way, that the races for the state's four U.S. House seats aren't far away from that level of gut-wrenching competitiveness. If I were a betting man, I'd put cash down that all four will end up with single-digit margins when all is said and done in November.
The criteria for the state power rankings was based on a fairly simple point system. States were awarded points on the following basis (race ratings were culled from our DKE ratings for the House, Senate, and gubernatorial races. State legislative chamber ratings were from a Louis Jacobson article rating the legislative battles published in late June):
- 8 points for a gubernatorial/U.S. Senate race deemed a tossup.
- 6 points for a state legislative chamber deemed a tossup.
- 4 points for a gubernatorial/U.S. Senate race deemed as "leaning" to a party.
- 4 points for each U.S. House race deemed a tossup.
- 3 points for a state legislative chamber deemed as "leaning" for a party.
- 2 points for a gubernatorial/U.S. Senate race deemed as "likely" for a party.
- 2 points for each U.S. House race deemed as "leaning" to a party.
- 1 point for a U.S. House race or a state legislative chamber deemed as "likely" for a party.
- 1 point for every general election poll conducted in the preceding period.