Monday, August 3, 2009

Burr's in better shape

Richard Burr's approval ratings are as mediocre as ever and he's still polling under 50% against every Democrat under the sun, but he's looking better for reelection right now than he has in about four years.

It's not even because Democrats don't have a name candidate against him yet- that didn't hurt them two years ago- it's simply because the winds are blowing in a Republican direction right now and if it continues that way they'll most likely take him along with.

In the last four election cycles 24 Senate races have been decided by seven points or less, and in 19 of them the party that the national climate favored were victorious. In 2002 Republicans took 5 of 7, with the only Democratic survivors being incumbents Mary Landrieu and Tim Johnson, who each held on by the smallest of margins. In 2004 Republicans took 5 of 6, with Ken Salazar defeating Pete Coors in a Colorado open seat. In 2006 Democrats took 4 of 5, with Bob Corker beating Harold Ford for an open seat in deep red Tennessee. And in 2008 Democrats took 5 of 6, with the exception being Mitch McConnell's uninspiring reelection in Kentucky.

One thing missing from the list of exceptions? Incumbents whose parties fared well overall- a category Burr would fall into if we were going to vote today. Maybe Roy Cooper could have still beaten Burr if next year proves to be good for Republicans. But I don't think anyone else in the picture can.

Now a couple other points:

1) It would have been hard two months ago to imagine things turning bad for Democrats so quickly, which means it certainly can turn back again before an election 15 months from now.

2) Some might ask: if national climate is so important, then why does Burr's approval rating even matter? Well some politicians are popular enough to insulate themselves from their party's problems- for instance Republican Susan Collins had no business winning a 23 point victory in super Democratic Maine last year, nor for instance should an Evan Bayh have been able to win by 25 points in Indiana in 2004 even as John Kerry was losing the state by nearly 20 points. But those folks have proofed themselves from their party's recessions while Burr certainly has not. Which means that more than likely Burr's fate will be determined by the direction in which the wind is blowing...and that makes his reelection prospects look a lot better now than they did six months ago.

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