Tuesday, February 3, 2009

How Carnahan stacks up

Robin Carnahan is in the race for Senate in Missouri.

When we did a poll on this last month we found that 45% of voters in the state had a favorable opinion of her with 36% viewing her unfavorably. 19% had no opinion. 76% of Democrats viewed her positively, and her announcement should effectively clear the field on that side.

It is unclear how strong her bipartisan support is. Only 15% of Republicans we polled last month said they had had a favorable opinion of her, but at the same time our final pre-election poll last fall found her winning around a quarter of the Republican vote in her reelection bid for Secretary of State, which is quite a respectable performance. It could be that GOP voters would be more concerned with her party label as one of 100 Senators than they are with her serving in a state office.

When we tested Carnahan in possible match ups against Republicans Roy Blunt, Jim Talent, and Sarah Steelman she led all three, although it was pretty close against Blunt and Talent. One of the main reasons it was so close against them is that she earned only 54% support from black voters in those contests. Early polling tends to underestimate black support for Democratic candidates, which tends to run closer to 90%, but Carnahan may still have some work to do shoring up her standing with one of the party's key demographics. Assuming she can do that, her initial lead over potential GOP foes is stronger than our numbers indicate.

One of Carnahan's particular strengths as a Democratic candidate is her popularity with white voters. She led Talent and Steelman in that demographic in our initial polling, and only trailed Blunt by a single point. Any statewide Democrat in Missouri who can run roughly even with whites will win an easy victory overall. To put it in perspective, Barack Obama nearly won the state last year despite losing the white vote 57-42 according to the exit polls.

A seat in the Senate is not inevitable for Robin Carnahan in this perpetually competitive state, but she certainly starts out as the favorite.

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