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updated 9/8/2006 11:07:23 AM ET 2006-09-08T15:07:23

Six is the magic number for Democrats this fall -- that's how many seats they need to wrest control of the Senate from the GOP for the first time in over a decade. Statewide pollsters have been busy in their individual markets, but Gallup/USA Today got into the action in the end of August to test the country's most competitive races.

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Pennsylvania: The contest between Rick Santorum (R) and Bob Casey (D) -- which consistently clings to the top spot in Chuck Todd's race rankings-- just keeps heating up underneath the national spotlight. Gallup found Casey ahead of the vulnerable incumbent by double digits among both registered voters (14 percent) and likely voters (18 percent).*

Montana: Chuck Todd's No. 2 race was the closest of the five, with results well within the poll's margin of error. Forty-eight percent of likely voters said they would choose John Tester (D) over incumbent Sen. Conrad Burns (R). Registered voters put Burns ever so slightly ahead, 44 percent to Tester's 42 percent.

Ohio: The Buckeye State's race looks tight as well. Incumbent Sen. Mike DeWine (R) trailed his challenger, Sherrod Brown (D), by 6 points among likely voters but just 2 points among registered voters.

Missouri: This race is the only one Gallup tested that showed the Republican hopeful coming out significantly ahead -- at least among one group. Jim Talent led Democrat Claire McCaskill by 6 points among likely voters. Among registered voters, however, the opponents tied at 41 percent each.

Minnesota: A second competitive race shows a Democratic candidate, Amy Klobuchar , solidly ahead of the GOP candidate, although she doesn't enjoy a lead as big as Casey's. Half of Gallup's likely voters said they planned to vote for the Hennepin County attorney; 40 percent said they would vote for her opponent, Rep. Mark Kennedy (R). The split was 3 points narrower among registered voters.

*Note: Numbers are broken down between registered voters -- respondents who said they were eligible to vote in their states -- and likely voters -- respondents who were most apt to go to the polls "according to a series of questions measuring current voting intentions and past voting behavior."

MOOD METER: Can Incumbents Come Back?
It's a referendum, alright. A new poll this week might set federal legislators on edge: Twice the number of respondents to a CNN survey said they were more likely to vote for a challenger (55 percent) than an incumbent (27 percent) in November's congressional elections.

High levels of dissatisfaction with the direction of the country are fueling the anti-incumbent sentiment. Three-quarters of respondents said they're angry about something in the United States; fewer than a quarter said they're generally content.

Even worse news for legislators -- that "pro-challenger" number in the first paragraph? It's significantly higher than the 48 percent from a pre-election survey in 1994, when Republicans flipped control of Congress.

CAMPAIGN CHECK: Third-Party Hopefuls In The Lone Star State
Independent candidates Kinky Friedman and Carole Keeton Strayhorn aren't likely to win the Texas gubernatorial race, but they can't be discounted completely. Both polled in the double digits -- at 13 percent and 14 percent, respectively -- in a late-August Opinion Analysts Inc. survey conducted for the Texas Trial Lawyers Association.

Those numbers are just about identical to the Democrat in the race, former Rep. Chris Bell. Incumbent Gov. Rick Perry was sitting pretty at the top of the list with 41 percent.

Gwen Glazer is managing editor at nationaljournal.com

Copyright 2012 by National Journal Group Inc.

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