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updated 10/26/2006 4:54:47 PM ET 2006-10-26T20:54:47

As the election grows ever closer, the frenzy for hard data -- to just know, already -- grows ever greater. And polling data is as close as it gets to the ultimate poll on Nov. 7.

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Nowhere is the pressure quite as intense as in the nation's most competitive Senate races. Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg News [PDF] pollsters went into the field in five of the tightest battleground states to take voters' temperature, and came out with some of the most detailed information to date on the squeakers.

Flips in favor of Democrats look most likely in Pennsylvania and Ohio, the top two states on Chuck Todd's Senate rankings, where GOP incumbents consistently trail by fairly wide margins. LA Times/Bloomberg also counted Montana and Rhode Island, No. 3 and No. 4 on Todd's list of potential flips, as probable Democratic pickups.

Going with those substantial assumptions, the tally comes to four seats. Can Democrats find two more?

First up is Tennessee, a race that's gotten a huge dose of attention for its nasty advertising war between Bob Corker (R) and Harold Ford Jr. (D). The survey was conducted over the weekend, amid accusations of racial overtones in an anti-Ford spot from the Republican National Committee. (The RNC pulled the spot on Wednesday.) Corker had a 5-point lead overall, a 16-point lead among white voters and a 16-point lead among male voters; Ford led by a whopping 47 points among non-white respondents and by 5 points among women.

Another state with a controversial ad war, Missouri, also showed the Republican candidate ever-so-slightly ahead. Incumbent Jim Talent led Democrat Claire McCaskill by just 3 points, well within the poll's margin of error.

Missouri's on-air showdown concerns a spot featuring actor Michael J. Fox, visibly affected by Parkinson's disease, asking viewers to back McCaskill because she supports stem-cell research. That spot spawned a counter-commercial from other Hollywood stars as well as widely publicized disbelief from Rush Limbaugh, and it could make or break the Missouri race because of a controversial initiative on the November ballot. LA Times/Bloomberg pollsters found that 58 percent of respondents said they planned to vote yes on Constitutional Amendment 2; 35 percent said they'd oppose it.

Pundits are also calling Virginia's Senate race a toss-up. Pollsters put the Democrat, James Webb, just 3 points ahead of incumbent George Allen in that race, 47 percent to 44 percent -- again, well within the margin of error. That race has also been one of the nation's most controversial, with accusations of racism and sexism flying between the two camps on and off the air.

But New Jersey, the only state with real potential to flip Republican this cycle, could ruin the Democrats' math. The Garden State currently has a vulnerable Democratic senator -- Robert Menendez, who was appointed after Jon Corzine was elected governor last year. The Times/Bloomberg poll has Menendez a slender 4 points above Republican challenger Tom Kean Jr.; polls have shown the two trading tiny leads for nearly the whole contest. And a new ruling supporting same-sex marriage in the Garden State -- and subsequent news that the National Republican Senatorial Committee would pour $5 million in new advertising into the state -- introduced a new unknown into Menendez's bid.

Regardless of the individuals involved, however, all four of the battleground states shared a frustration with the status quo inside the Beltway. More respondents in each state said they'd like to see Democrats take control of Congress than let Republicans keep it, and majorities said the country needs a different direction than the course set by President Bush.

Gwen Glazer is managing editor at nationaljournal.com

Copyright 2012 by National Journal Group Inc.

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