Jan. 29, 2015 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Delaware Aside, Shifts in Senate Field Favor GOP

We waited until after Tuesday's primary to change our rating of the New Hampshire contest, where Republican Kelly Ayotte is squaring off against Rep. Paul W. Hodes (D). Ayotte is the candidate national Republicans recruited into the race and, despite her narrow primary victory over tea party conservative Ovide Lamontagne, she is the party's strongest possible nominee.

Recent polls have consistently shown Ayotte as the frontrunner in head-to-head matchups against Hodes. One of them -- which gave Ayotte a 47 percent to 43 percent lead among likely voters -- was conducted by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling. Another produced by Rasmussen Reports and released two days after the primary gave Ayotte held a 7-point lead over Hodes, 51 percent to 44 percent.

Rasmussen noted that most GOP primary voters appear to be putting the primary behind them: The poll showed 92 percent of Republicans now back Ayotte, while Hodes drew support from 83 percent of Democrats. Among independents, Ayotte held a 19-point lead. That number will be the key to victory in November and it was a factor in moving the race in her favor.

It remains to be seen whether any of the bitter attacks in the primary will come back to haunt her. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's endorsement might offer another potential stumbling block for Ayotte, given that Palin's is largely unpopular in New Hampshire. Still, it hard not to see her as the favorite to hold retiring Sen. Judd Gregg's (R-N.H.) seat.

In Arkansas, it's getting hard to see how Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) will be able to hold on against Rep. John Boozman (R). An expensive and high profile primary and primary runoff did little to build confidence that the Democratic base will come out in droves for Lincoln in November. And while some Democrats in states like Florida and Kentucky can help reach out to moderates by playing up their Republican opponents' ties to the tea party movement, Lincoln doesn't have that luxury. Boozman is a five-term Congressman who is as much a political insider as Lincoln is.

In a testament to just how steep the Democratic Senator's path to victory is, a poll released this week that showed a 17 point difference is actually the closest she's come to Boozman in months. Several public polls from over the summer put the Congressman up anywhere from 19 to 31 points.

Finally, we continue to believe the West Virginia race is one that has the potential to get a lot more interesting between now and Election Day.

Popular Gov. Joe Manchin III began the contest as the prohibitive frontrunner against wealthy businessman John Raese. But the most recent Rasmussen Report poll showed Manchin ahead 50 percent to 45 percent and the race has earned a spot on the competitive playing field of races with about six weeks to go before the midterms. Granted many observers view Rasmussen polls as controversial and skewed toward Republicans, but it's clear that operatives in both parties see this race as an emerging battleground.

Raese, who has run twice unsuccessfully for Senate before, has aired ads tying Manchin to President Barack Obama, who is not popular in the state.

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