Two weeks ago I wrote that there was no doubt that the Senate race had shifted in favor of Senator Murray. Now there is no doubt it has shifted back.
Rasmussen released a poll Thursday showing Dino Rossi at 48 percent, Patty Murray at 47 percent.
This is the third consecutive poll showing the race essentially tied. A month ago Rossi was ahead, two weeks ago Murray was ahead, now it’s a dead heat.
Without access to more data — focus group research and the various polls’ internal cross tabulations breaking the results down geographically and demographically — it’s very hard to speculate on why this race has fluctuated so dramatically the past month. This trend isn’t apparent in other competitive races around the country for which we have access to polling data. The only local factor in the race has been the TV advertising. The Murray campaign was up earlier with more ads and negative ads. Now the Rossi campaign is advertising heavily and has shifted to a more attacking message.
Patty Murray is one of four Democratic Senators in danger of losing their seats, the others being Michael Bennett in Colorado, Harry Reid in Nevada, and Russ Feingold in Wisconsin. The Murray-Rossi race, however, is the only one in which both candidates are hovering around 50%. In the other races the incumbent is polling in the mid to low 40s.
This is significant because past history has shown that undecided voters tend to break against incumbents, thus incumbents who are slightly ahead, but several points below 50%, tend to lose. In the political business this is known as “the incumbent rule.”
But what about a race between an incumbent and a very well known challenger in which both candidates are just below 50 percent? Does the rule still apply? We will need to watch the final polls closely to discern if the few remaining undecided voters break mostly one way or the other.
Absent a third dramatic shift, with one month to go this is looking like another excruciatingly close Washington State race that won’t be decided on election night.