A new poll out Wednesday from Suffolk University and USA Today confirms something we kind of already knew: Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) is in a remarkable amount of trouble. The poll shows independent Greg Orman leading Roberts 46 percent to 41 percent with Democrat Chad Taylor now off the ballot.
It has plenty of bad news for Roberts, but also some reasons to believe his goose isn't cooked just yet. Below, we're recapping three ominous signs for Roberts, and three reasons for hope. (And it all comes with the caveat that one poll shouldn't be taken as gospel.)
First, the storm clouds:
1) He is behind, period.
The only other Senate incumbents who have trailed by as much as five points in a poll are Sens. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska). And there are less than five weeks left in the campaign — i.e. not a ton of time.
2) His favorable rating — 39 percent — is lower than President Obama's — 41 percent.
Ouch. That said, this is where Obama's mother is from, so there might be same nostalgia for that. His approval rating, for example, is five points lower, at 36 percent. And Roberts's unfavorable rating and disapproval ratings are both lower than Obama's. Still, the fact that Roberts is in the same ballpark as Obama in ruby-red Kansas is telling.
Also telling: Roberts's approval rating among Republicans is just 50 percent, with 36 percent disapproving. Clearly, there are lingering effects from his sub-50-percent primary showing.
3) Roberts earns the support of just 61 percent of Republicans
It's 61-30 Roberts among GOPers. If he's going to win, that needs to change — plain and simple. An incumbent, even in a state like Kansas, can't win while ceding that much of his party's vote.
At the same time, it's also clear that there is plenty of room for movement in this campaign over the next five weeks. Here are three reasons for hope:
1) Roberts earns the support of just 61 percent of Republicans
Yes, we repeat ourselves — but for a reason. The GOP attacks on Orman have really only begun, and from here on out it will be a steady stream of tying Orman to national Democrats, including Obama. Can a guy who ran as a Democrat in 2008 and is, for all intents and purposes, being pulled for by national Democrats really win three in 10 GOP voters? It seems unlikely — even if Republicans don't really like Roberts all that much.
The poll also shows the two men splitting pretty evenly among independents, with Roberts getting 38 percent and Orman 43 percent. If that holds and Roberts coalesces GOP support, the path to victory is pretty clear.
2) Orman is undefined
The poll shows Orman's favorable rating at 39 percent and his unfavorable rating at 25 percent. Those are good numbers — if they hold when more voters get to know him. Even among Republicans, Orman's favorable/unfavorable split is a pretty-close 29/34.
But lots of people still have yet to be introduced to Greg Orman, and it's quite simply very hard to emerge from a hard-fought campaign with positive numbers like that. How does his positive image hold up after he's carpet-bombed with ads labeling him a liberal (with little backup)?
3) People care about party control
Suffolk asked people whether they care about which party controls Congress. Among Republicans, 69 percent agreed with that statement. Among independents, it was a closer split: 51-39. Given the lean of the state, it's safe to assume that the majority of these folks — both Republican and independent — would prefer Republicans be in control of Congress.
And rest assured: Over the next few weeks, Republicans will drive home the importance of Roberts to the GOP's Senate majority math.
Correction: This post initially said Obama grew up in Kansas. His mother is from the state.