PPP poll has Bennet topping Buck among key independent voters

The nail-biter U.S. Senate race pitting Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet against Republican Weld County D.A. Ken Buck will be won or lost among independent voters with views in the middle of the political spectrum, according to a new Public Policy Polling survey released Tuesday. That’s good news for Bennet, who the numbers suggest has sewn up the Democratic base and is winning over increasing numbers of independents.

Tom Jensen, a director at Public Policy Polling, writes in his summary of the findings that independents don’t love either candidate but that they “give [Bennet] a 24 point lead despite their tepid feelings toward him personally because of their greater animosity toward Buck.”

Jensen elaborates:

Both candidates have their party base pretty much completely locked up: Bennet is winning 85% of Democrats and Buck is winning 84% of Republicans. Bennet’s slight edge comes because of something that is pretty unusual for Democratic candidates across the country this year- he’s ahead 48-38 with independent voters.

Bennet’s lead with independents is not because they like him- in fact they don’t. His approval rating with them is a negative 37/45 spread. Rather it appears to be the price to pay for Republicans nominating a candidate with limited appeal to the center. Independents see Buck unfavorably by an even wider spread, 31/50.

A closer look at moderate voters, who comprise the majority of independents in Colorado, shows a lot of trouble for Buck. They see him negatively by greater than a 2:1 margin, 27/57. They’re not real high on Bennet, giving him only a +7 approval rating at 43/36. But when it comes to the horse race they give the incumbent a 24 point lead despite their tepid feelings toward him personally because of their greater animosity toward Buck

The poll also points out that voter turnout is key. The higher the number of Coloradans who get out to the polls in November, the more likely a Bennet victory. In 2008, with record turnout, President Obama defeated McCain in Colorado by 9 points. According to Jensen, this past August among Colorado registered voters, Obama supporters outnumbered McCain supporters by only 4 points. “If the electorate reflected the 2008 turnout, Bennet would have a sizeable 50-41 lead,” writes Jensen. “If [the November electorate] simply look[s] like the composition of the August set of registered but not necessarily frequent voters, Bennet would top Buck, 47-44.”

The next weeks will decide the race. Yet Bennet and Buck have been hard to find. Bennet has been in DC and, as Colorado reporters have noted and Politico reported today, Buck has been absent the last week and a half or so on a sort of regrouping sabbatical from the campaign. His absence matches a trend among non-establishment or Tea Party GOP candidates nationwide this month, where exposure in the crucial run up to the final weeks of the campaign is seen as a risk not worth taking.

If the PPP poll is any measure, however, Buck for one stands more to lose than he has to gain in avoiding the mainstream press. He has, as the PPP poll makes clear, already sewn up support among the GOP base. Independent, moderate voters who have been turned off by his image so far are not going to be won over by right-wing bloggers and AM talk-radio interviews.

PPP surveyed 834 likely Colorado voters between September 30 and October 2 for the poll. The margin of error is +/- 3.4 percent.

[Image: Sen. Michael Bennet ]

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