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Big opportunities, big risks as GOP primary season begins

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Politics,Chris Stirewalt,Power Play

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BIG OPPORTUNITIES, BIG RISKS AS GOP PRIMARY SEASON BEGINS
The poll out today from USA Today and Pew Research gives a new insight onto just how good a year this is shaping up to be for the Republican Party – better than either of the previous two wave elections for the GOP. The chance of double-digit Senate gains once sounded fanciful, but is now a real possibility. USA Today explains it nicely: “In the 2014 elections, registered voters are inclined to support the Republican candidate over the Democrat in their congressional district by 47%-43%. That 4-percentage-point edge may seem small, but it's notable because Democrats traditionally fare better among registered voters than they do among those who actually cast ballots, especially in low-turnout midterms….Their lead in the generic congressional ballot is the biggest at this point for Republicans in the past 20 years. In 1994, when the GOP would gain control of the House and Senate, Democrats held a 2-point advantage in the spring of the election year. In 2010, when Republicans would win back the House, the two sides were even.”

[In the same poll, independent voters are more likely to vote Republican than Democratic in the midterms, 49 percent to 33 percent.]

Generic polls, real candidates - There are lots of ways to explain these numbers, but basically it’s that voters are fed up with President Obama’s administration: “By more than 2-1, 65%-30%, Americans say they want the president elected in 2016 to pursue different policies and programs than the Obama administration, rather than similar ones.” That’s how Republicans are doing better than ever in the so-called “generic ballot” test. But while there are generic ballot questions in polls, but there are no generic candidates. Starting Tuesday in North Carolina, Republicans will start the process of picking Senate nominees for Democrat-held seats, a process that the party botched in 2010, missing the chance to take control of the Senate even as it gained its largest House majority in more than a generation. Democrats’ best hope for limiting Republicans to a net gain of five or fewer Senate seats depends on bitter, protracted and expensive primary fights that produce weakened, impoverished Republican nominees. North Carolina’s vote this week marks the first chance for Democrats to get their wish.

Hagan’s hope - Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., is likely the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent this cycle. She’s more liberal than most of her constituents, has struggled badly to explain her support of ObamaCare and without the help of Obama’s surprisingly good 2008 performance in the state, the freshman senator looks like a sitting duck. But if GOP frontrunner N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis comes up short of 40 percent in Tuesday’s primary, he will face a brutal July 15 runoff with his chief rival, Dr. Greg Brannon. Brannon, who is campaigning today in Charlotte with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., doesn’t need to win this week. He just needs to hold Tillis, backed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and others, from winning the nomination outright. Brannon, whose unvarnished conservatism plays well with base voters, would have a better time in a low-turnout July election with no other outsider candidates splitting up the anti-establishment vote. No one is rooting harder for Brannon to have a good night than Hagan and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Not only would Brannon be easier to attack, but just giving Hagan another nine weeks to raise money and play spectator to Republican-on-Republican attacks would be a blessing for a candidate otherwise sorely wanting for good news this cycle.

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