Last night, I discussed the decisive role independents are playing in the Republican push for control of the House, as evidenced by how independents respond to surveys measuring the “generic vote.” Today comes word, via Politico, that independents are breaking significantly for Republicans in key Senate races. Thus, in Kentucky, where Rand Paul led Jack Conway among independents by only 7 points in September, that lead has now expanded to 39 points. Similarly, in Illinois, Mark Kirk’s lead among independents has shot up from 10 points to 22.
Politico notes that the phenomenon is not universal. Linda McMahon is faring poorly among independent voters in Connecticut. And Ken Buck is only slightly above even with this cohort in Colorado. Then, there are California and Washington, where the Republicans have solid leads with independents (17 points in California), but may need even larger margins to win these blue states.
The question is whether the kind of pro-Republican movement among independents that we’ve seen recently in Kentucky and Illinois (and earlier, I assume, in Wisconsin and West Virginia where the Republican candidates made sudden headway during the summer) will occur in other states. While it may not happen in Connecticut, much less Delaware, I wouldn’t be surprised if independent voters continue to move away from Democrats in some of the closer races.
As Politico suggests, it is probably the peculiarities of individual races that are keeping independent voters on the fence in some states. In Colorado, for example, Ken Buck reportedly has made some missteps, while Michael Bennet supposedly has run a good campaign.
But when it comes time to make a final decision, I expect independent voters to focus on their view of the incumbent Senator and/or the incumbent’s party. If this does become the focus, it can only help the Republicans. For example, in Colorado where the independent vote splits pretty evenly in the polls, independents disapprove of Bennet’s performance by 34-55. That rating is awfully tough to overcome when push comes to shove.
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