That’s one way analysts are describing the new WMUR Granite State Poll out of New Hampshire on Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s race for reelection. Senator Shaheen is only 2 percentage points ahead of Republican Scott Brown, the former Massachusetts senator who jumped the border into New Hampshire so he could challenge her.
Less than two months ago, Shaheen was ahead of Mr. Brown by 12 points in a survey by the same pollster, the University of New Hampshire, polling for WMUR-TV.
In the new poll of likely voters, taken Aug. 7-17, Shaheen leads 46-44. In the last Granite State poll, taken June 19 to July 1, Shaheen led 52-40.
The good news for Shaheen is that most voters – 60 percent – are still making up their minds. The bad news is that President Obama’s job approval in New Hampshire is sinking, and that could seal Shaheen’s fate.
“Shaheen has long been popular in New Hampshire, and she has led Brown throughout the spring and summer, but her campaign is being weighed down by national politics, particularly the declining popularity of President Obama,” writes Andy Smith, director of the poll.
Only 37 percent of likely New Hamphsire voters approve of the job Mr. Obama is doing, versus 59 percent who disapprove. In the first group, Shaheen leads 92 percent to 4 percent. In the second, Brown leads 71-17.
Shaheen’s own favorability rating is well above water: 48 percent to 36 percent. But history shows that may not save her. When Shaheen beat incumbent Sen. John Sununu (R) in 2008, he was above water in favorability.
“It just didn’t matter, because he had an R after his name in a year when the Democrats were going to win everything,” Mr. Smith said in a Monitor interview.
The biggest argument against Brown is that he’s a carpetbagger, says Smith. The Massachusetts native has long owned a vacation home in New Hampshire, but switched his residency only this past January. So far, Shaheen hasn’t pounded that point hard, but she is expected to.
The general election campaign begins in earnest after the primaries on Sept. 9. Brown faces challengers, but is favored to win easily.
For now, analysts are wondering how seriously to take the sudden shift in the polling. There’s always a possibility that the new poll is an outlier. But Smith, the poll’s director, says that in fact, the difference between the last poll and the new poll is not as great as it appears – all because of the margin of error, roughly 4 percent points.
Shaheen shifted from 52 percent to 46 percent against Brown, which is just ouside the margin error. Brown went from 40 percent to 44 percent, which is within the margin.
Also, Smith notes, the Granite State Poll he did in April had Shaheen ahead of Brown 45 percent to 39 percent – not all that different from the poll just released.
“Anyone who didn’t think this race would be close is whistling past the graveyard,” said Smith.
In a way, the New Hampshire race probably doesn’t even matter to the outcome of the overall race for control the Senate. The Republicans need a net gain of six seats to win the majority, and three seats are already likely gone: Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia.
The nonpartisan Cook Political Report ranks seven other Democratic-held seats as tossups, three of them in red states. Cook ranks New Hampshire, a battleground state in presidential elections, as “lean D.” But 2014 is shaping up to be a Republican year, and if New Hampshire is going Republican for the Senate, lots of other competitive races will probably get there first.
Still, if Brown beats Shaheen, it will be one for the history books. The last person to serve as a senator for multiple states was Sen. James Shields (D) in the 1800s. At different times, he represented Illinois, Minnesota, and Missouri.