- The Washington Times - Monday, September 17, 2012

President Obama leads polls in Virginia, Connecticut and Massachusetts but that has not yet translated into strong support for Democrats in those states’ crucial Senate races.

But in some red states where the president is trailing GOP nominee Mitt Romney, Democratic candidates are defying the polls the other way, overcoming Mr. Obama’s poor showing to be competitive against weak Republicans.

In Virginia, Mr. Obama holds a 5-point lead in a new poll released by the Democratic-leaning firm Public Policy Polling, notably breaking the 50 percent barrier and leading Mr. Romney, 51 percent to 46 percent. An NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll from earlier this month likewise gave Mr. Obama a 5-point lead — but showed Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican George Allen tied in the state’s Senate race, which is about where they’ve been for virtually the entire campaign.

A similar but more pronounced phenomenon is at work in Connecticut, where Republican Linda McMahon, the wealthy cofounder of World Wrestling Entertainment, has collected more than $14 million and has pulled even with Democratic candidate Rep. Christopher S. Murphy — even though Mr. Obama averages about a 9-point lead in recent polls. Meanwhile, just to the north, consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren has only recently taken a slight lead against incumbent Sen. Scott P. Brown, despite Mr. Obama’s leading the state by an average of nearly 20 points.

Political scientists regularly debate a presidential candidate’s coattails — the phenomenon of a popular presidential candidate helping out those from his party in down-ticket races.

But this year there are also a number of states that are solidly red at the presidential level, but where Democrats are outperforming Mr. Obama.

When longtime Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota announced his retirement last year, it was largely assumed that his seat would flip to the GOP with relative ease. But the latest average of polls by Real Clear Politics gives Republican Rick Berg, the state’s lone congressman, a lead of just 5 points over Democrat Heidi Heitkamp.

Ms. Heitkamp may not end up winning, but she has managed to stay close because of good, old-fashioned retail politicking, said Mark Jendrysik, chairman of the Political Science and Public Administration Department at the University of North Dakota.

“If you don’t go to our church picnic, people don’t forget it,” he said. “I’m exaggerating, but only slightly. You’ve got to do a lot of retail politics, and I don’t think Berg has had much time.

“I think Republicans think Berg is going to win; they’re just worried about ‘it’s closer than it should be,’ ” he added.

Indiana and Missouri are two other red states in similar positions, but the tightness of their Senate races arguably has more to do with the respective Republican nominees than any other factor.

In Indiana, an internal poll released Monday by the campaign of Rep. Joe Donnelly gives the Democrat a 3-point edge over Republican state treasurer Richard Mourdock, while Mr. Romney leads Mr. Obama by 47 percent to 41 percent.

The tea party-backed Mr. Mourdock made a splash by downing longtime incumbent Sen. Richard G. Lugar in the May Republican primary. The 80-year-old Mr. Lugar hadn’t faced a serious challenger in decades, and so Democrats were eager to pounce after he was felled.

“Joe Donnelly was betting on Mourdock knocking off Lugar,” said Ed Feigenbaum, publisher of several newsletters on Indiana politics and government. “I think a lot of those Lugar Republicans are going to be Donnelly voters.”

In Missouri, Sen. Claire McCaskill, long considered one of the most endangered Democrats in the country, was also handed a boost after her opponent, Rep. W. Todd Akin, unexpectedly won the state’s Republican primary and later made the infamous statement that in cases of “legitimate rape” a woman’s body “has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

“What Democrats know is they need to expand the playing field, and with only 10 Republican seats up, there aren’t many opportunities to do that,” said Jennifer Duffy, a political analyst with the Cook Political Report.

Meanwhile, Mr. Obama’s brand in West Virginia is so toxic that federal inmate Keith Judd won 40 percent of the vote in the May Democratic primary.

Nevertheless, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin appears poised to win election to a full term; he led Republican John Raese by a whopping 39 points in a poll released last month. Mr. Manchin famously fired a bullet — literally — through the president’s cap-and-trade energy bill in a 2010 campaign ad and has not committed to supporting his re-election campaign this year.

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