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New polls show Democrats have a narrow path to a Senate majority

What the latest Senate polls tell us about the state of the 2018 midterm elections.

What the latest Senate polls tell us about the state of the 2018 midterm elections. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Dylan Scott covers health care for Vox. He has reported on health policy for more than 10 years, writing for Governing magazine, Talking Points Memo and STAT before joining Vox in 2017.

Axios, in conjunction with Survey Monkey, just dropped a big batch of polls from battleground states for the 2018 Senate elections, which are either good or bad news for Democrats, depending on how you look at it.

Democrats are on the defensive, with incumbents in 10 states that Donald Trump won in 2016, while having only a couple of obvious opportunities to win Republican-held seats. The Democrats’ path to victory is narrow if they want to flip the GOP’s current 51-to-49 majority.

The Democrats won’t flip the Senate, according to this new Axios survey that contacted more than 12,600 voters across 13 states. Yes, they are expected to win Arizona and Nevada away from the Republicans, but Democrats are narrowly trailing in Florida, North Dakota, and Indiana. That would mean a 52-to-48 Republican majority.

Yet considering how tough a map the Democrats are facing, that’s not terrible. And by looking closer at the Axios/SurveyMonkey poll while accounting for other surveys, an observer can indeed identify a path to narrow Democratic victory.

Perhaps the most important state to watch — and certainly the one with the most expensive race — is in Florida. It should be a tight race; this was the site of one of Trump’s closest wins, and Nelson has been in office a long time. Operatives in the state have said that Nelson would need strong fundraising to match that of Scott, who is able to significantly self-fund his campaign. The polling average, from Real Clear Politics, is narrow: Scott holds a 2 point advantage. The Axios poll found the Republican up by 3 points.

Polling has been consistently strong for Democrat Kyrsten Sinema in Arizona. With a kind of fierce and late Republican primary there, she looks like a strong bet to flip the seat.

Nevada is also favorable for Democrats, and Rep. Jacky Rosen, who is now officially the Democratic candidate, should be a strong challenger to Republican Sen. Dean Heller. He is the only Republican facing a reelection race in a state that presidential candidate Hillary Clinton won in 2016. Axios puts Rosen in the lead, 48 percent to 45 percent.

Tennessee is looking a little more like a long shot for Democrats, if Axios is onto something. A Democratic win always seemed like a bit of a stretch; the state pretty consistently votes for Republican, and Trump is still pretty popular here. Democrats did get a strong recruit in popular former Gov. Phil Bredesen, and he had been leading in the polls. But Axios found Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn leading by a whopping 14 points. Bredesen had been holding a 5-point advantage in the polling average before that.

Two Democrats in Trump country states are performing pretty strongly in polls, according to Axios and the averages. The new Axios poll shows Montana’s Jon Tester ahead by 12 points, and that has pretty consistently been his margin in other polling. West Virginia’s Joe Manchin’s chances are also looking pretty strong in the state that likes Trump best; he’s holding a 13-point lead in the Axios poll and a 6-point lead in the polling average.

Axios also found Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill 2 points ahead of Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley in a Missouri contest. That race should be close, but a state GOP tainted by scandal could be a boon for the Democrat.

Indiana and North Dakota might present the toughest races for Democrats. Axios found incumbent Sen. Joe Donnelly down 2 points to Republican Mike Braun in Indiana, and the only other poll about the race put Braun ahead by 1 point. In North Dakota Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp trailed Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer by 5 points in the new Axios survey. The other polling also indicates a close contest there.

(The Axios survey also did not include Texas, where Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke has flirted with competing against incumbent Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.)

It’s an uphill battle for Democrats. They’ve known that from the start. If there is good news to be found here, they seem to have a genuinely good shot at holding onto a lot of the Senate seats in these Trump-won states. If they can do that, while flipping Arizona and Nevada from red to blue, they can conceivably get those 51 votes in the next Congress.

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