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PPP shows Mandel momentum in Senate race

Last weekend, it was a new set of fundraising numbers that Sherrod Brown’s campaign had to worry about.Now, they have a poll from Democrat firm Public Policy Polling showing a hard-charging Josh Mandel consolidating his support amongst his Republican base and now independent voters. The poll is standard-issue coming from PPP, too, and Brown’s team has to realize that the over-sampling of Democrats and under-sampling of independents skews even this unfavorable result. The topline in any poll is the news, and to be sure, the incumbent still leads this race to the tune of 48% to 40%. But as soon as you look under the hood of this survey it starts to get messy for Senator Brown.

Josh Mandel was trailing 48% to 33% back in August, when the previous polling was released from PPP in this race. At that point, many more Republicans were still on the fence, and independent voters preferred Sherrod Brown by a 13-point margin. Now that fall has settled in, Mandel is consolidating Republican support (he is up in his primary matchup by a 2-to1 spread) and still has 14% of the Republican electorate to gain as of the October 13-16 poll. In addition, Mandel now leads Brown amongst independents by three points, which is a very volatile shift in just two months of 16% away from the incumbent. Somehow, Josh Mandel accomplished this with no increase in name ID, which is static at 33% recognition, and while Senator Brown managed to slightly increase his approval rating to 40% against 35% disapproval.

Incumbents above 50% are generally expected to be safe in re-election campaigns, and while Democrats are likely to argue that Brown’s 48% might as well be 50%, it simply is not. The fact that his support has not increased here is an early warning sign. Likely, too, is that many of those same supporters of Sherrod Brown were making the same argument two years ago when early polling showed then-Governor Ted Strickland hovering between 45-50% consistently. The longer Brown stays below the magic 50% line, the wider the window of opportunity remains for Josh Mandel’s campaign team. With low name ID, the challenger will have the unique ability to define who he is for the first time to most Ohio voters, over two-thirds of them in fact. Add this reality to the quickly-evaporating cash advantage for Sherrod Brown, and this race will be defined in large part by Mandel’s team ably positioning him as a better alternative to six more years of the most liberal member of the US Senate.

One final note to make about the PPP poll, and it is really the one that should be most worrisome to Democrats reading the tea leaves on this one. PPP historically has a problem of oversampling/undersampling in Ohio polling, which was made apparent on Third Base Politics back in August. Then, the sample broke 44% Dem/34% GOP/22% Independent. The latest poll breaks 47% Dem/37% GOP/16% Independent. The problem, as pointed out in August, is that even at the height of Democrat voter intensity in 2008, exit polling showed a mere 8-point advantage for Democrats, with a full 30% of voters being independent. In 2010, Democrats and Republicans turned out evenly. To say that in the current environment Democrat voter intensity will top that of 2008 is a foolish assumption to make in the least, and a dangerous assumption to make if you are a campaign operative. 48% to 40% may still be the topline for now, but reality paints a much different picture for Sherrod Brown’s re-election chances.

UPDATE (Bytor): Using a more realistic turnout model of 37.5% D, 33.5% R and 29% I, the top line number becomes Brown 45 Mandel 42.  This will be a competitive race.

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Third Base Politics is an Ohio-centric conservative blog that has been featured at Hot Air, National Review, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and others.


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