Kavanaugh Nomination Puts Spotlight on Senate Races

October 8, 2018 Updated: October 8, 2018

Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court is now squarely in the rearview mirror—he is now Justice Kavanaugh, after his swearing-in ceremony Oct. 7, and the dust is beginning to settle after a messy and mostly partisan battle over his confirmation. But as the midterms loom nearer, it’s not clear that all the partisan rankling has changed voters’ minds in favor of either party in the Senate.

There are nine Republican and 26 Democratic seats in the Senate up for grabs this November, nine of which could swing either way, according to the Cook Political Report. Looking at the numbers in those districts, polling seems to favor Democrats, 5–4.

Of those is incumbent Bill Nelson’s (D) seat in Florida, which he is fighting to retain in a race against Florida Governor Rick Scott (R). In a Florida Southern College Center for Polling and Policy Research taken Oct. 1 to 5, Nelson had a 1.5 point lead with a margin of error of 4.5 points. This is almost the same as a Sept. 24 to 27 Mason-Dixon Florida Poll & Research Inc. poll that gave Nelson a one-point lead, and similar to other polls before the Kavanaugh nomination process that had them tied.

In Indiana, incumbent Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) seems to have gained slightly in the polls against Mike Braun (R) since before the nomination. In a June 11 to July 22 poll, Survey Monkey/Axios showed Braun with a four-point lead among likely voters, but after the Kavanaugh hearings from Sept. 29 to Oct. 2, Donnelly was up by about two points in a Fox News voters poll.  Donnelly had a three-point lead over Braun in an Aug. 26 to 29 NBC News/Marist Poll of likely voters.

Missouri incumbent Claire McCaskill (D) has been losing ground against Josh Hawley (R), but only slightly, according to several polls. An Aug. 25 to 28 poll by NBC News/Marist Poll gave her a four-point lead among registered and likely voters. A Sept. 29 to Oct. 1 poll by Vox Populi Polling gave Hawley a two-point lead over McCaskill, and a Fox News poll taken Sept. 29 to Oct. 2 of likely voters shows them tied.

Incumbent Montana Sen. Jon Tester (D) is now leading Matt Rosendale (R) by four points, according to a Sept. 29 poll by Public Policy Polling. That’s about the same as in July, according to a survey of likely voters by Remington Research Group, which showed Tester with a three-point lead.

In North Dakota, incumbent Heidi Heitkamp (D) is down against Republican challenger Kevin Cramer, by nine points with registered voters and 12 points with likely voters, according to a Sep. 29 to Oct. 2 Fox News poll. Heitkamp’s numbers haven’t changed drastically in recent months. She was down by 10 points according to a Sep. 17 to 27 poll by Strategic Research Associates, and by five points among registered voters in a June 11 to July 2 poll by SurveyMonkey/Axios.

Sen. Jon Kyl (R–Ariz.), who stepped in to fill the seat left by Sen. John McCain (R) after his death, has chosen not to run for reelection. The race between Democratic nominee Kyrsten Sinema and Republican nominee Martha McSally is close, but polls have fairly consistently showed Sinema in the lead. A YouGov poll of likely voters taken between Oct. 2 and 5 shows Sinema with a three-point lead, and an Axios/SurveyMonkey poll of likely voters between June 11 and July 2 shows her with a five-point lead.

In Nevada, Democratic nominee Jacky Rosen is taking on incumbent Sen. Dean Heller (R) with a slight advantage, according to a few polls. In an Aug. 20 to 21 poll of voters, Public Policy Polling gave her a five-point lead over Heller, while an SSRS from Sept. 25 to 29 of likely voters showed her with a four-point lead.

In Tennessee, former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen is now trailing behind incumbent Republican Marsha Blackburn in several polls compared to before the nomination. An Oct. 2–5 YouGov poll of likely voters shows Blackburn up by eight points. In a Marist College poll taken Aug. 25 to 28 of likely voters, Bredesen had a two-point lead.

In Texas, incumbent Republican Sen. Ted Cruz has retained a lead over Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke, albeit a smaller one of late. An Oct. 1 to 5 Emerson College poll of likely voters has Cruz up by five points. A YouGov poll taken around the same time has him up by six points with likely voters. Another Emerson College poll taken Aug. 22 to 25 had him with a one-point lead with registered voters.

While it’s useful to look at the polls, they aren’t everything. They inevitably have different samples sizes with different margins of error and use different methods of collecting the data, in addition to asking different questions. What is clear is that Kavanaugh’s nomination process has put a spotlight on the Senate that will give these races a prominence they may not have had otherwise—for better or for worse.

Follow Holly on Twitter: @HollyGailK