Senate Democrats in the South received some welcome news today from a New York Times-Kaiser Family Foundation poll showing tight U.S. Senate races in Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana and North Carolina are close, but the poll also highlighted some potential warning signs for Democrats when it comes to health care and President Obama's sagging approval ratings.
Sen. Mark Pryor, largely considered the most vulnerable Democrat in this year's election, holds a 10 percentage point lead over his Republican opponent , Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark. Forty-six percent of registered voters in Arkansas said they'd vote for Pryor while 36 percent said they'd vote for Cotton. Pryor, who has served two terms in the Senate, has an approval rating of 47 percent.
The poll found that the two closest races in the Southern states are in Kentucky and North Carolina. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has a 1 point lead over Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, with 44 percent of registered voters saying they'd vote for McConnell and 43 percent saying they'd choose Grimes. Forty percent of Kentucky voters said they approved of McConnell's job performance.
In North Carolina, 42 percent of registered voters said they'd vote for Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., while 40 percent said they'd pick one of her Republican opponents: Thom Thillis, North Carolina's House speaker. In another match-up, 41 percent said they'd vote for Hagan while 39 percent said they'd vote for Republican candidate Greg Bannon. Hagan's approval and disapproval ratings both came in at 44 percent.
In Louisiana, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., holds a wide lead over Republicans trying to unseat her with 42 percent of registered voters saying they'd vote for Landrieu. Her closest competition was Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-La., who came in at 18 percent. Louisiana does not hold primaries, so if a candidate does not receive a majority of the vote on Nov. 4, the election will head into a run-off.
But the poll does contain some red flags signs for Democrats. In Arkansas, Louisiana, and North Carolina, a majority of registered voters said they would not vote for a candidate who did not share their views on the Affordable Care Act, which could prove problematic for Democrats if the president's health care law is unpopular with voters.
An ABC News-Washington Post poll conducted in March found that 49 percent of Americans supported the health care law while 48 percent opposed it.
Another issue that could prove to be a liability is Obama's approval ratings in these southern states where a majority of voters disapprove of how the president is handling his job. Sixty percent of registered voters in Arkansas and Kentucky said they disapprove of the president's job performance. In Louisiana, 54 percent disapprove of how the president is handling his job while 51 percent of registered in voters in North Carolina disapprove.
The New York Times also said its poll found that support for Republican candidates is higher among likely voters in the four states.
There has already been some conservative push-back to the findings on voting patterns. Kirsten Kukowski, press secretary for the Republican National Committee, blasted a memo to reporters highlighting the poll's sampling, which found that voters in Arkansas voted for Mitt Romney over President Obama by 1 percentage point in 2012, when Romney actually won Arkansas by 24 points. She noted similar issues with the polls in the three other states.
The four polls were conducted from April 8-15 by land-line and cellphone. As for other poll data, 857 registered voters in Arkansas, 891 registered voters in Kentucky, 946 registered voters in Louisiana and 900 registered voters in North Carolina took part. The margin of sampling error was +/- 4 percentage points for registered voters.