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Senate Update: A Fresh Look At The Changed Race In Kansas

This is the first installment of the FiveThirtyEight 2014 Campaign Crib Notes, which will highlight polls, our Senate forecast and other news. Crib Notes will come out with increasing frequency the closer we get to Nov. 4.


The biggest poll of the day came in Kansas, where SurveyUSA found independent candidate Greg Orman ahead of Republican Sen. Pat Roberts 37 percent to 36 percent. Notably, Democrat Chad Taylor, who has dropped out of the race but remains on the ballot, pulled in 10 percent. Roberts’s support has barely budged, but Orman’s backing has almost doubled.

Importantly, SurveyUSA informed voters that Taylor no longer appeared to want to run. That means Orman may not gain much more ground in the polls when voters realize on their own that Taylor ceased his campaign. Orman has more upside with the group voting for Taylor. At the same time, however, 26 percent of Republicans are voting for Orman. Can that hold up as voters learn more about Orman’s center-left track record?

FiveThirtyEight’s model indicates the race is too close to call: Roberts has a 54 percent chance of winning. That’s because the forecast takes into account “fundamentals” — factors such as Kansas’s Republican leaning electorate — which the model weights along with the polling.

Previously, the forecast had been using the state fundamentals estimate along with an earlier Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey, which had put Orman 10 points ahead of Roberts in a (hypothetical) head-to-head matchup. On that basis, the model had projected the race as a tossup, slightly tilting toward Roberts — about the same as it does now with the SurveyUSA poll also included.

In Iowa, Democrat Bruce Braley got a bit of good news from a Loras College poll that put him ahead 45 percent to 41 percent over Republican Joni Ernst. That’s quite the change from Loras’s June poll, which gave Ernst a 6 percentage-point lead, 48 percent to 42 percent. With that poll, the FiveThirtyEight model has boosted Braley’s chance of winning to 57 percent from 50 percent. The race is still extremely close: Braley is ahead by just 1 point.

One additional bit of caution is that Loras changed its methodology. While the previous Loras poll included only those who voted in the 2010 general election (or had since registered to vote) and indicated a likeliness to vote, the latest poll included those who had voted in 2012 and indicated a likeliness to vote. We would expect that the larger pool of those who voted in a presidential year would benefit the Democratic candidate, and it did so in this case. More polling is needed to confirm the Braley surge.

Overall, Democrats had a better polling day than they did Sunday, but it makes little difference to the big picture. Their chances of retaining their Senate majority are 36.3 percent, according to the FiveThirtyEight forecast, up incrementally from 34.9 percent.

The Final Primaries

Tuesday will feature the last contests of the primary season. Here are a few races we’re watching.

In Massachusetts, it looks like Attorney General Martha Coakley will win the Democratic primary for governor over Donald Berwick and Steven Grossman. While there were some thoughts that Grossman (who won the statewide convention vote) was closing, the most recent polls have Coakley ahead by at least 20 percentage points.

Also of note in Massachusetts, Democratic Rep. John Tierney, whose wife was entangled in a tax fraud scandal, is facing a tough challenge from Seth Moulton for his 6th District seat. Polls show the race is within a few points either way.

In New York, the key question seems to be what percentage of the vote Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo will get in his primary against liberal candidate Zephyr Teachout. Cuomo should easily win, but there were no polls for this primary.

In Rhode Island, it’s a three-way slugfest in the Democratic primary to replace departing Gov. Lincoln Chafee. The most recent poll by Fleming & Associates is a month old, so things may have shifted. Still, the Fleming survey had the treasurer of Rhode Island, Gina Raimondo, with 32 percent of the vote; the mayor of Providence, Angel Taveras, with 27 percent; and Clay Pell, the grandson of a longtime Rhode Island senator with the same name, with 26 percent.

News That Probably Doesn’t Matter

Most news that happens during election season doesn’t make a dent in the race. That doesn’t mean it’s not juicy or interesting. These are the stories people are talking about.

  • Mitt Romney — a former one-term governor of a small Northeastern commonwealth — claimed Sunday that he thinks he would be a better president than memoirist Hillary Clinton.
  • Accomplished tactician and former veep Dick Cheney will meet with House Republicans on Tuesday to discuss the midterms. We’re standing by to update the FiveThirtyEight model accordingly.
  • During a debate with his Republican challenger, Cory Gardner, Democratic Colorado Sen. Mark Udall said the journalists killed by ISIS “would tell us, ‘Don’t be impulsive. Horrible and barbarous as those executions were, don’t be impulsive, come up with a plan to knock ISIL back.’ ” Udall’s comments were tone-deaf, but they probably won’t have any long-term effect on his campaign.

Better know a candidate who’s probably going to lose

Every election, one goal is to forecast the eventual winner of the race. But in contested races, there’s always at least one other person who has to lose. Sometimes doom is certain, other times less so. Here, we celebrate these individuals and point you to the best local journalism about them.

This edition’s candidate is Zephyr Teachout, who’s running against incumbent New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic primary. Teachout is probably going to lose this election. Although she failed to get The New York Times endorsement, her running mate — Tim Wu, who is campaigning for lieutenant governor against former congresswoman and Cuomo pick Kathy Hochul — did pick up that endorsement and appears to stand a better chance than Teachout to make the ticket.

Check out Teachout’s appearance on “The Brian Lehrer Show” on New York’s WNYC radio station.

The Lee Atwater Memorial Absurd Ad Of The Day

EYE ON on 2016

Your No. 1 source for what to expect in 2016.

According to NASA, Sumatra, Borneo, Sulawesi and regions of the Pacific Ocean will enjoy a total solar eclipse on March 9, 2016.

That concludes this segment of EYE ON 2016.

Harry Enten was a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.

Walt Hickey was FiveThirtyEight’s chief culture writer.