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The Cook Political Report

Two Key Senate Contests: An Arkansas tossup, while GOP holds an edge in Maine


With everything that is known about voting patterns and behavior, one would assume that in a year in which an incumbent president is seeking a second term, the political fortunes of candidates from his own party in his home state would be greatly enhanced. But this is hardly the case in Arkansas where Attorney General Winston Bryant (D) and two-term GOP Rep. Tim Hutchinson are battling it out for the seat being vacated by Sen. David Pryor (D). While President Clinton enjoys a wide lead in Arkansas where Democrats have long held the upper hand, this Senate race is too close to call.

Cook's U.S. House Race Overview

Four recent polls illustrate how close the race is today. The first poll is a Flake-Wilkerson Market Insight survey for KTHV-TV Channel 11 (September 5-11 of 800 registered voters) showed Hutchinson leading Bryant by 7 points, 40 percent to 33 percent. In the second survey, a Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research poll conducted September 8-10 of 806 likely voters, this race was a statistical dead heat, with Bryant leading 44 percent to 42 percent.

According to the third survey by Opinion Research Associates for KATV-TV Channel 7 (September 9-11 of 508 registered voters), Bryant was ahead by 6 points, 47 percent to 41 percent, with 12 percent undecided. Finally, a poll taken for the Hutchinson campaign by the Tarrance Group (September15-16 of 500 likely voters) showed Hutchinson with a 10-point lead over Bryant, 47 percent to 36 percent.

Perhaps the best way to make sense of these somewhat disparate surveys is to average them by adding up each candidate's percentage of the vote in each poll. The result gives Hutchinson a slim two-point lead over Bryant, 42-40 percent. Apart from the fact that Clinton tops the ticket, the fact that this race is a deadheat today is surprising for a number of reasons, including Arkansas' propensity to elect Democrats, even as the rest of the South has been trending Republican in recent years, the fact that Bryant has been a fixture in state politics for more than 20 years and has been elected statewide six times, and that Hutchinson got in this race late and did not have much of a base outside of his congressional district.

One can only speculate as to why the race is so close. It may be because Hutchinson put together a campaign quickly and went on the air over the summer, or perhaps voters may perceive that Bryant has been in politics too long. Another reasonable possibility is that voters are quite willing to support favorite son Clinton, but may feel some hostility toward other Democrats as a result of resigned Gov. Jim Guy Tucker's conviction on Whitewater-related charges. More than likely, though, it could well be some combination of the three.

After GOP Senate nominee Mike Huckabee dropped out of the race to become governor, Democrats believed that their candidate would have an easier time winning election, but Hutchinson has thrown a wrench into that scenario, and today this is one of the closest races of the cycle.


Despite earlier predictions that Democrats were well-positioned to take the seat of retiring GOP Sen. William Cohen, it now appears that Republican nominee, former Small Business Administration regional director and 1994 gubernatorial nominee Susan Collins, holds a slight edge over Democratic former Gov. and U.S. Rep. Joe Brennan.

A Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research poll (conducted August 4-6 of 612 likely voters) gave Collins an eight-point lead over Brennan, 48-40 percent. Collins took 25 percent of the Democratic vote and 49 percent of the independent vote. Collins had a favorable rating of 46 percent and an unfavorable rating of 21 percent. Brennan's favorable to unfavorable ratings were 37-35 percent, which may explain why he is trailing in the race today.

The most recent poll, conducted for WCSH/WLBZ television (September 9-10 of 500 likely voters), showed Collins with a seven-point lead over Brennan, 48-41 percent. Green Party candidate John Rensenbrink got four percent and Taxpayer's Party nominee Bill Clarke received three percent.

While Collins is running a fairly moderate campaign, Brennan is not hiding his liberal views or record. He was endorsed by the National Organization for Women and the Maine Education Association, and 20 percent of his receipts have come from labor unions. But perhaps the most telling sign that Democrats are in trouble here was a recent assessment of the race by DSCC chairman Bob Kerrey. During a visit to the state, Kerrey told reporters that Brennan is behind and must better communicate his message on the stump. This led to speculation that Kerrey was telling Brennan that he must put his campaign on track and raise more money if he is to expect help from the DSCC. Collins has a slight edge. Voters here are willing to split their tickets, so the presidential contest may not play much of a role. If Collins can keep her campaign on track, she may well hold this seat for Republicans.

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