Things are looking better and better for Democrats in the battle for Senate control.
In some of the cycle’s closest contests — Massachusetts, Wisconsin and Virginia — Democrats are starting to eke out legitimate leads.
“Democratic campaigns are cautiously optimistic,” said DSCC spokesman Matt Canter. “We’re seeing movement in all the races toward the Democrats.”
Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren now leads Republican Sen. Scott Brown 47.5 percent to 45.6 percent, according to the PollTracker Average. In Wisconsin, Rep. Tammy Baldwin has jumped to a lead over former Gov. Thompson Thompson, 49 percent to 43.9 percent. And in Virginia, Tim Kaine leads George Allen, 48.1 percent to 45.2 percent.
Warren has benefited from her platform at the Democratic National Convention. The continued nationalization of the race has also played in her favor — despite Brown’s personal popularity, he is still a Republican in a state that President Obama will likely carry by a very wide margin.
Kaine’s race, too, has been tied closely to the presidential race — and in fact, Obama is pulling away from Romney in Virginia.
In Wisconsin, Baldwin has also been bolstered by her speech in Charlotte. But beyond that, she has campaigned heavily throughout the state, while Thompson has had to rebuild his campaign after spending heavily on a closely fought primary. It has also been 14 years since Thompson actually ran for office in the state, and Democrats have been attacking him as a D.C. insider for all the time he has spent in Washington since then.
The Thompson campaign has also had its share of missteps — most notably when a top staffer attacked Baldwin’s sexual orientation, for which Thompson publicly apologized several days later.
The Cook Report and other election watchers have recently conceded that Democrats have a slightly better chance of holding the Senate than Republicans do of taking it.
Part of the momentum shift can be chalked up to Rep. Todd Akin in Missouri. Akin’s Democratic opponent, Sen. Claire McCaskill, was long believed to be the most vulnerable senator in the country. But Akin’s false comment about women’s bodies being able to prevent pregnancy in cases of “legitimate rape” — and his subsequent refusal to leave the race in the face of his party’s pleas — has fundamentally changed that race.
With Missouri likely out of play, the GOP must instead look to three other Democratic-held states as their must-win baseline. It starts with the open seat in Nebraska, where GOP state Sen. Deb Fisher is on track to defeat former Sen. Bob Kerrey. The races in Montana, where Democratic Sen. Jon Tester is in a tight battle with Rep. Denny Rehberg, and North Dakota, where Republican Rep. Rick Berg is facing Democratic former state Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp, are closer.