WASHINGTON—Democrats are slightly ahead of Republicans in three election battleground states that will help determine control of the Senate, a series of polls released Sunday showed.
In Montana, Democrat Jon Tester had the support of 47 percent of registered voters while incumbent Republican Sen. Conrad Burns had the support of 40 percent.
In Ohio, Democrat Rep. Sherrod Brown had 45 percent of registered voters, while incumbent Republican Sen. Mike DeWine had 43 percent.
In Tennessee, Democratic Rep. Harold Ford Jr. had 43 percent and former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker, the Republican Senate nominee, had 42 percent.
Democrats probably must win all three races if they're to take back control of the Senate on Nov. 7. They need to gain six seats overall, and these three are among the six seats currently held by Republicans that are considered most vulnerable.
Another Republican incumbent, Sen. George Allen of Virginia, was locked in a 43-43 percent dead heat with Democratic challenger James Webb, according to a poll released Friday by McClatchy Newspapers and MSNBC.
The surveys underscored how much these states are up for grabs and how much rides on the final five weeks of campaigning. The work of both major parties to get their supporters to turn out on Election Day could prove decisive. One in 10 voters remain undecided in Montana and Ohio, 12 percent in Virginia and 14 percent in Tennessee.
The polls were all conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. for newspapers in each of the states—the Lee Newspapers in Montana, the Cleveland Plain Dealer in Ohio and the Memphis Commercial Appeal and Chattanooga Times Free Press in Tennessee. Each state poll was of 625 registered voters and had an error margin of plus or minus four percentage points. The polls were taken between Sept. 25 and Sept. 28.
Mason-Dixon conducted a broader series of polls for McClatchy Newspapers and MSNBC in seven other closely fought Senate battleground states. Virginia results were released Friday, the other six will be released Monday.
In Tennessee, Mason-Dixon found the contest close in the fight for the Republican-held seat being vacated by Sen. Bill Frist, the majority leader who is retiring to run for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.
Ford is running as a tough-minded moderate in a state that has trended Republican and did not even support Tennessee son Al Gore when he was the Democratic presidential nominee in 2000. Ford supports the death penalty, voted for the Patriot Act, and aired one ad featuring him in the church where he was baptized.
The congressman led among women 47-38 percent, and among Democrats 88-4 percent.
He also led among his fellow African-Americans by a margin of 91-3 percent. If he were to win the election, he'd be the first popularly elected African-American U.S. senator from the South.
Corker will not be outflanked to the right, however. He supports the Iraq war, vows tougher border security, and supports gun rights. He stresses that he cut violent crime while mayor, though the size of the reduction is disputed.
Corker led among men by 46-to-39 percent, among Republicans by 76-to-10 percent and among independents by 43-to-33 percent. He led among whites by 49-to-35 percent.
In Montana, Burns has two problems: his mouth and his friends.
Known for crusty speaking since his days as a farm radio host, Burns strikes some Montanans as down to Earth, others as embarrassing. In the most recent example, he told some Virginia firefighters who came to Montana to help fight a wildfire that they'd done "a piss poor job."
But it's his association with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff that could hurt him more. Burns took nearly $150,000 in Abramoff-related contributions before returning them. Also, two of his aides went to the 2001 Super Bowl on Abramoff's tab.
Tester, president of the state Senate, repeatedly hits Burns on ethics. "I won't sell Montana down the road by cutting deals with lobbyists like Jack Abramoff," Tester said in a recent debate.
One ominous sign for Burns in the new poll: 45 percent of voters have an unfavorable opinion of him, the highest negative rating of any candidate in the three states.
Burns led among men 45-44 percent, but trailed among women by 50-35 percent. He had the support of 79 percent of Republicans, while Tester had 89 percent of Democrats and led among independents by 55-28 percent.
In Ohio, Republican DeWine also has two problems. His are named President Bush and Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, both fellow Republicans.
Other polls have shown that Bush and the Iraq war are unpopular in Ohio, and that Taft's popularity dropped after he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges stemming from a statehouse ethics scandal.
DeWine is far from out of the race, however. To differentiate himself from Bush, he campaigns as a pragmatist who works both sides of the political aisle to get things done in the Senate. That's underscored by his role as one of the Senate's "Gang of 14" that forged a compromise last year to allow confirmation of several federal judges while preserving the minority's right to filibuster, or block, other nominations.
DeWine led among men by 47-43 percent, but trailed among women 47-39 percent. He and Brown each had support from about 80 percent of their party's base—but Brown led among independents by 52-33 percent.
The Mason-Dixon poll of 625 registered voters in each state was conducted by telephone Sept. 25-27 in Ohio and Tennessee and Sept. 26-28 in Montana.
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(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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