updated 10/5/2006 10:17:41 AM ET 2006-10-05T14:17:41

Democrats are poised for U.S. Senate gains in the Nov. 7 election, but face an uphill battle to pick up the six seats they need for control, according to Reuters/Zogby polls released on Thursday.

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Democrats lead in five of 10 crucial Senate battlegrounds, including three Republican-held seats in Pennsylvania, Montana and Rhode Island and in Democratic-held Maryland and New Jersey.

But Republican incumbents lead in Virginia and Missouri, and Senate contests in Republican-held Ohio and Tennessee are deadlocked, the polls showed.

Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman, running as an independent, has a big lead over Democrat Ned Lamont.

To gain a Senate majority, Democrats must hold their own vulnerable seats and sweep six of the seven at-risk Republican seats, including knocking off five Republican incumbents -- a tough but not impossible task.

“It looks like Democrats will make gains, but it will be very difficult for them to take control,” pollster John Zogby said. “It is going to take an awful lot of work for them to pick up six seats.”

The polls show Lieberman, the 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee who lost an August primary fight to Lamont, with a 20-point lead over his rival.

2006 key racesOther polls have given Lieberman a smaller lead in the high-profile race, which will not have a bearing on the Senate balance of power. Lieberman has promised to vote with Democrats if he wins his race as an independent.

The polls, taken Sept. 25 to Oct. 2 in 10 of the country’s most competitive Senate races, surveyed at least 600 likely voters in each state. They have a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Public unhappiness with President Bush, the Iraq war and the direction of the country has created a difficult political environment for Republicans and given Democrats momentum in the election battle for the U.S. Congress.

The polls overlapped by three days with the unfolding sex scandal involving Florida Rep. Mark Foley’s explicit Internet messages to teenage male congressional pages, another setback for Republicans.

Competitive races
The new polls showed no Republican incumbents earning support from more than 50 percent of voters, usually a bad sign for current office holders. Sen. George Allen in Virginia was the only Republican incumbent with more than 40 percent of voters saying he deserved re-election.

While the Democratic fight for Senate control will be a tough challenge, they are in enough competitive races to have a shot.

Republican Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, perhaps the biggest target for Senate Democrats, trails Democrat Bob Casey Jr. 48 percent to 36 percent. Republican Sens. Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island and Conrad Burns in Montana each trail Democratic challengers by 4 percentage points.

In Ohio, Republican Sen. Mike DeWine and Democratic Rep. Sherrod Brown are in a dead heat. The Tennessee race between Republican Bob Corker and Democrat Harold Ford Jr., who are vying for the right to replace retiring Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, also is deadlocked.

The new polls showed Allen ahead of Democratic challenger James Webb 48 percent to 37 percent, even though Allen’s re-election bid has drawn heavy attention for his campaign trail missteps. Other polls show the race closer or even.

“Webb doesn’t seem to have taken advantage of a bad couple of weeks for Allen,” Zogby said.

In Missouri, where Republican Sen. Jim Talent and Democrat Claire McCaskill have been running close in polls all year, the Reuter/Zogby poll shows Talent ahead 43 percent to 39 percent.

Democrats have firm leads in two states where they are on defense, with Democratic incumbent Robert Menendez leading Republican Tom Kean Jr. 45 percent to 35 percent in New Jersey.

In Maryland, Democrat Ben Cardin leads Republican Michael Steele by 45 percent to 37 percent in the race to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Paul Sarbanes.

Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.

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