Pressure on Down-Ballot Republican Candidates Growing

The final weeks of the campaign upon us and the onset of crunch time is provoking underdog candidates to start throwing “kitchen sinks.

The final weeks of the campaign upon us and the onset of crunch time is provoking underdog candidates to start throwing “kitchen sinks.” Statewide races are tightening in the polls significantly and consistently. This could diminish the chances for down ballot Republican candidates running for House and state legislative seats that needed a “wave” to put them over the top.

In New York, a once competitive Republican gubernatorial candidate has lost a significant amount of credibility and momentum in the last several weeks. This is bad news for the down ballot Republican candidates. They will be the ones that suffer when Republican leaning voters that are turned off by Carl Paladino either stay home or pull the lever for a third party candidate. The Real Clear Politics average for the gubernatorial race in New York has Paladino down by an average of 22 points across 6 polls from October.

The story is the same in the two statewide Senate races. A recent New York Times poll from October 11-15 shows that Kristin Gillibrand, the Democrat appointed  to finish Hillary Clinton’s Senate term, is running twenty five points ahead of her challenger, Republican candidate Joe DioGuardi, at 50 to 25 percent respectively. While polling below 50 percent as an incumbent is troubling, running 25 points ahead is a good place to be. Gillibrand can be reassured by a trend that shows her opponent losing support. Sen. Charles Schumer is ahead by 30 percentage points over his Republican opponent. If New York’s statewide races had seemed competitive last month, they are no longer.

This is disturbing news for Republican House candidates running in the 12 competitive districts in New York. Some of the rising stars in the New York Republican party may suffer from their association with a toxic ticket. Randy Altschuler running in New York’s 1st district is now running 12 points behind the Democratic incumbent, Tim Bishop. The latest Siena poll shows Democratic incumbent, Scott Murphy, running almost twenty points ahead of Republican candidate Chris Gibson in the 20th district. In one of the more competitive races in the state, the up-and-coming GOP celebrity Nan Hayworth has been running a competitive race against Democratic incumbent John Hall in New York’s 19th district for weeks. The latest survey in the race conducted by Monmouth University shows Hall leading Hayworth by only one point. There is no question these GOP candidates would benefit from a strong top-of-the-ticket candidate. That help will not be forthcoming.

New York is not the only state where there is some empirical evidence to suggest tightening. In Colorado, two statewide races may have similar implications for down ballot candidates.

While the governor’s race in Colorado, once a lock for Denver Mayor and Democratic candidate John Hickenlooper, has recently tightened, it is still a good bet that the Democrats will hold onto this office in November. Further complicating the issue is a defunct Republican candidate in that race with the Conservative Party candidate picking up most of the Republican vote. The latest Fox News poll showed Hickenlooper with 45 percentage points, compared to Conservative candidate Tom Tancredo’s 40 percentage points. The Republican in the race, Dan Maes, picks up 10 points. Colorado’s Republican party will suffer whatever the result of the governor’s race. The Colorado Senate race also looks like a squeaker – most polls show Republican candidate Ken Buck with a narrow lead over Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, but a Public Policy Polling survey shows Bennet taking a statistically insignificant one point lead at the end of September. Buck’s lead outside the margin has evaporated.

This dynamic between the governor’s race and the Senate race may keep turnout high and reduce the pressure on down ballot candidates. In Colorado’s 3rd district, the incumbent Democrat Ken Salazar still faces trouble from Republican Scott Tipton, although no new polls have been conducted since August. In Colorado’s 4th district, Democrat Betsy Markey has been able to shrink her opponent’s lead in the polls from 11 to 3 points from August to September. There are no polls from this month in this race, but the trend line should be troubling for Republicans. In the 7th district, a competitive race between a GOP rising star, Ryan Frazier, and incumbent two-term Democrat Ed Perlmutter may also be tighter than anticipated.

In California, Democratic candidates for the governorship and the Senate seem to have sticky leads that persist from poll to poll.

In Ohio, both the statewide races still lean heavily towards the Republican. Tightening has been occurring, however, especially in the governor’s race. This will put pressure on the Republicans looking to unseat swing-district Democrats in a state with no less than 8 competitive House seats.

In Pennsylvania, a  Public Policy Polling poll released today shows that the Senate seat may not be as secure for Republicans as was once thought. Despite a questionable  sample in that poll that captured significantly more Democrats than voted in 2008, the poll reveals trouble for Republican candidate Pat Toomey’s appeal with Pennsylvania’s women. This state, too, has some top level GOP targets, and the Republican party’s plans for taking over the state Senate may be in jeopardy.

Caveat, the competitive nature of these close races will likely drive up turnout, particularly on the GOP side. It is still that kind of year. That is likely to be beneficial to the House and legislative candidates that hope to benefit from the weave of pro-Republican voters expected to turn out to the polls this year.

Tightening in the polls is natural, but implosions at the top-of-the-ticket have given GOP candidates more of race than they were hoping for.


Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E. Email him at

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