Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan, left, and Republican J.D. Vance, left, are running for Senate.
CNN  — 

Recent polls have suggested the Senate race in Ohio may be tied, but no nonpartisan analyst is treating it as such.

Why? It mostly comes down to polling analysts (including myself) believing that the polling misses of the past few years will repeat themselves to some degree this year.

Democrats’ path to holding the Senate, according to most analysts, depends on defending Arizona, Georgia and Nevada and flipping Pennsylvania. Picking up Ohio, a long-time swing state that’s been trending red, isn’t usually mentioned as part of their roadmap to preserving their narrow majority.

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  • If the polls are, however, correct, Democrats may have a pickup opportunity that few people are acknowledging is at least as good as Wisconsin, where GOP Sen. Ron Johnson is the only GOP incumbent running for reelection in a state President Joe Biden carried in 2020. Republicans need a net gain of just one seat to win the Senate next month, so Democrats would like to put in play a few GOP seats to mitigate their own potential losses in a Senate that’s currently split 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris enjoying the tie-breaking vote.

    And that’s where Ohio could come in. Take a look at surveys published this week from Marist College (among definite 2022 voters) and Siena College. Both had Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan and Republican J.D. Vance tied. The average of all the polls have Vance up by a point or two at most.

    This doesn’t jibe well with nonpartisan analysis from places like the Cook Political Report with Amy Walter and Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales, which rate the race as lean Republican.

    Believing a generic Republican should be favored in an Ohio Senate race makes sense when you examine the political landscape. Former President Donald Trump won Ohio by 8 points in 2020. And the national environment looks like it is 5 or more points more Republican this year than two years ago.

    There’s also good reason to think the polls are too good to be true for Democrats without knowing anything about the national environment. Final polls for governor (in midterm years) and president (in presidential years) have overestimated the Democratic candidate by at least 6 points in every Ohio election since 2014. The polling problem in Ohio is part of a multiyear pattern of polls overestimating Democrats in states with a large White non-college educated population.

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  • Of course, it wouldn’t be the craziest thing in the world for the Ohio Senate polls to be right this year. Ryan, who has a huge fundraising advantage, has spent a lot more money on ads than Vance, who emerged bruised from an ugly GOP primary. Ryan has a higher favorability rating in the polls than Vance. And Ryan staying competitive with Vance in the polling has been true now for pretty much the entire campaign, even after the major Republican super PAC diverted funds from other states to help shore up the GOP nominee.

    And it’s not like there isn’t a history of Democratic Senate candidates far outperforming the gubernatorial or presidential baseline in Midwestern states.

    In 2016, Democrat Jason Kander lost by a mere 3 points to Republican Sen. Roy Blunt in the Missouri Senate race. Kander ran more than 15 points ahead of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

    In 2018, Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown won reelection by 7 points even as Democratic gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray lost by 4 points to Republican Mike DeWine.

    This year, the polls have DeWine up by about 20 points in his reelection bid, so it’s as if the polling is suggesting that Democrats are going to do well statewide.

    The bottom line is we shouldn’t take the Ohio Senate race as a sure thing. Polling errors often don’t repeat themselves. Pollsters are always looking at improving their methods.

    If the Ohio Senate race ends up being close, we can’t say we weren’t warned.