GOP outlook shifts in Senate races in Michigan, Missouri

The successful comedic recipe of tragedy-plus-timing can spell disaster in politics. A mistake late in the race can be a game changer. A gaffe that may sound like a career-ender may be forgotten by the electorate a few months later.

So Republicans look like they have a chance to get the last laugh in Michigan, even as their chances in Missouri are looking more like a lead balloon.

Former Republican Rep. Pete Hoekstra, left for dead after his infamous "Debbie Spend-it-now" Super Bowl ad, has been clawing his way back and is now in a statistical dead heat with two-term Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow. According to a Mitchell Research and Communications poll conducted last week, Hoekstra leads Stabenow, 45 percent to 44 percent. Earlier this month, a survey by Foster McCollum White Baydoun had Hoekstra up by 2 percentage points. A poll by the Detroit News had Stabenow up 7 points. It all represents a dramatic change from just a few months ago.

Many thought Hoekstra was mortally wounded after the "Spend-it-now" commercial, his attempt at a big splash introduction. The spot featured an Asian actress praising Sen. Stabenow in broken English for "spending so much American money, you borrow more from us." The approach backfired, with many in the state calling it racially insensitive. Hoekstra's poll ratings tumbled, as Stabenow opened up a double-digit lead, with one poll showing the former House Intelligence Committee chairman down by 21 percentage points.

Now the campaign is starting to feel some wind in its sails.

"Michigan families are ready to elect a new senator that will be focused on solutions that will create jobs," Hoekstra said in a statement touting the Mitchell Research poll. "They recognize that their family members and their country cannot afford six more years of Debbie Stabenow's record-breaking spending and continuous efforts to raise taxes."

But Stabenow campaign spokesman Nate Byer questioned the polls results.

"Unlike this questionable Republican survey, two news outlets released a reliable poll late last week that shows Senator Stabenow up, 48-40, winning independents by 16 points, and women by 15," he said in a written statement. Byer added that Stabenow's ability to reach bipartisan consensus in Congress, specifically her work on the Farm Bill as Senate Agriculture Committee chairwoman, makes her the favored candidate among independent voters.

Meanwhile, Rep. Todd Akin, the Republican running against incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill in Missouri, continues to reel from the fallout over his "legitimate rape" comments. A new Mason Dixon poll has Akin down 9 points, a 14-point swing from just a month ago. Akin remains undeterred though, telling supporters in a fundraising appeal Monday that his campaign is "still in this race until November, and we're still in this race to win."

It remains to be seen whether the joke will be on him in the fall.