Dan Balz

By Dan Balz, Chief correspondent
October 11, 2014

For months, voters have been barraged by claims and counterclaims from Republicans and Democrats about the degree to which the landscape is shifting in the race for control of the Senate, which polls are correct and who has the best voter turnout operation. Get ready for more, and be wary about what you hear.

Two narratives have competed for attention since Campaign 2014 got underway.

One says, rightly, that the political environment favors the Republicans. Voters are unhappy. Most of the competitive races are in red states. President Obama’s approval ratings are weak. Democrats usually struggle to get their voters to the polls in midterm elections.

The second narrative says: Hold on, it’s not over yet. The reasons? Democrats have some popular issues on their side, from raising the minimum wage to their positions on women’s issues. Republicans have to beat a bunch of Democratic incumbents to win the six seats needed to take control in January. Some Democratic candidates have outperformed expectations.

What’s been happening over the past two weeks feeds both sides of the debate. For example, Republicans are talking up their prospects in Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa and Colorado. Not that those races are put away by any means, but Republicans see evidence that makes them optimistic. Based on earlier assumptions about which states were actually in play, GOP victories in those four states would spell doom for Democratic hopes of maintaining control of the Senate.

But wait. Democrats have suddenly decided to put $1 million into South Dakota, a state that until this week was considered a certain pick-up for the Republicans. Could that state actually be in play? In Kansas, Republican Sen. Pat Roberts remains on the defensive, though in a rock-ribbed Republican state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate since the New Deal. Republicans also are stepping up their advertising in Georgia. A GOP loss in any of those races could scramble predictions about who will control the Senate in January.

Adding to the “it’s not over yet” side of the competing narratives, Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg said last week his latest survey in the Senate battlegrounds shows perceptible trends that suggest movement toward the Democrats.

Republicans remain skeptical about such claims, and Democratic hopes for maintaining control, however, still may rest on the ability of Vice President Biden to break a tie in a 50-50 chamber.

Conflicting data

The final three weeks of the campaign will produce a flurry of new polls. For consumers of all this political information, some caution is in order. Ask political strategists who have been in the cockpit of campaigns in the closing days of past elections and many will tell you they don’t pay much attention to the public polls. They prefer the polls they commission and pay for.

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