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NBC News/Marist Polls Show Tight Contests in Key States

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Independent U.S. Senate candidate Greg Orman discusses voting trends with a class at Washburn University in Topeka, Kan., Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014. (AP Photo/The Capital Journal, Chris Neal) AP

Control of the U.S. Senate is coming down to the wire, with Democrats and Republicans locked in tight races in the key contests that will determine the majority in that chamber of Congress, according to six new NBC News/Marist polls.

The momentum in these races, however, has swung mostly in the Republican Party’s direction, giving the GOP a clear path to winning the majority.

  • In Colorado’s Senate contest, Republican challenger Cory Gardner holds a one-point lead among likely voters over incumbent Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., 46 percent to 45 percent. Back in September’s NBC/Marist poll, Udall was ahead by six points, 48 percent to 42 percent.
  • In Iowa, Republican Joni Ernst edges Democrat Bruce Braley by three points, 49 percent to 46 percent. Earlier this month, Ernst’s lead was two points, 46 percent to 44 percent.
  • In Kansas, independent Greg Orman has a one-point advantage over Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, 45 percent to 44 percent – down from Orman’s 10-point lead earlier this month in the NBC/Marist poll.
  • In Arkansas, Republican challenger Tom Cotton gets the support of 45 percent of likely voters, versus incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., at 43 percent. In September, Cotton’s lead was five points.
  • And in North Carolina, incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., and GOP opponent Thom Tillis are tied at 43 percent each. That’s down from Hagan’s four-point lead earlier this month. Libertarian Sean Haugh gets 7 percent of the vote.

“Senate contests are coming down to the wire,” says pollster Barbara Carvalho of Marist College’s Institute for Public Opinion. “ In a reversal from 2012, when there were multiple paths for [President] Obama, now the Democrats are struggling to protect their firewall in Iowa, North Carolina and Colorado.”

All five of these races are within the polls’ margins of error. The lone exception is the NBC/Marist poll of South Dakota, where Republican Mike Rounds enjoys a 14-point lead over Democrat Rick Weiland, 43 percent to 29 percent, while independent Larry Pressler, a former Republican senator, gets 16 percent. To win control of the Senate, Republicans must gain a net of six seats. Two pick-up opportunities – in Montana and West Virginia – appear to be slam dunks for the GOP. And South Dakota, per the NBC/Marist poll, looks to be a safe bet for a third.

That means Republicans need to win three out of these seven other Democrat-held seats to get to a majority: Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, New Hampshire and North Carolina.

But if Democrats win a GOP-held seat – say Georgia – or if Orman decides to caucus with Democrats, that means Republicans must win an additional seat (or two) to net six Senate seats.

Nerd Screen: Obama Approval Rating, Partisan Gridlock Impacting Midterms 2:03

Arkansas

In addition to holding a narrow two-point lead in the Senate contest, Republican Tom Cotton has a higher favorable/unfavorable rating among likely voters (46 percent to 43 percent) than Pryor does (41 percent to 49 percent).

Pryor enjoys a double-digit lead among women (49 percent to 38 percent), but Cotton is ahead among men (51 percent to 36 percent).

In Arkansas’ competitive gubernatorial race, Republican Asa Hutchinson leads Democrat Mike Ross by three points, 47 percent to 44 percent, which is down from Hutchinson’s nine-point lead in September.

President Obama’s approval rating in Arkansas stands at 34 percent among registered voters.

Colorado

Among women, Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Udall continues to hold a double-digit lead over Republican Cory Gardner (51 percent to 40 percent), while Gardner has an even greater advantage among men (53 percent to 38 percent).

Udall also holds a three-point edge among independent voters – but that’s down from 15 points back in September.

Meanwhile, Gardner has the advantage with early voters (54 percent to 42 percent), and Udall is up among likely Colorado voters who haven’t cast ballots yet (48 percent to 41 percent).

In the state’s gubernatorial race, incumbent Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper has a five-point lead over Republican opponent Bob Beauprez, 46 percent to 41 percent.

President Obama’s approval rating stands at 40 percent among registered voters, which is virtually unchanged since September.

Iowa

Joni Ernst’s three-point lead over Bruce Braley is due, in part, to her lead among independent voters, 49 percent to 41 percent.

Braley is ahead among those who have voted early (52 percent to 47 percent), but Ernst has a larger advantage among those who are still expected to cast a ballot (50 percent to 43 percent).

Braley is also up five points among women (down from 11 points earlier this month), while Ernst is ahead by 12 among men (down from 18 points).

In Iowa’s gubernatorial race, incumbent Republican Gov. Terry Branstad has a comfortable 59 percent-to-36 percent lead over Democratic challenger Jack Hatch.

President Obama’s approval rating among registered voters stands at 35 percent, down five points from earlier this month.

Kansas

In this GOP-leaning state, independent Greg Orman’s standing is boosted by his 34-point lead among independent voters, 60 percent to 34 percent.

But a barrage of negative TV ads – linking him to President Obama – has helped drive down Orman’s favorability rating to 42 percent favorable, 37 percent unfavorable. Earlier this month, it was 46 percent to 26 percent.

Roberts’ fav/unfav rating is at 43 percent favorable, 46 percent unfavorable.

In the state’s gubernatorial contest, Democratic challenger Paul Davis gets support from 45 percent of likely voters, compared with 44 percent for incumbent Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.

Obama’s approval rating stands at 35 percent among registered voters.

North Carolina

The race here has moved from Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan’s four-point lead to a tie due, in part, to Republican Thom Tillis’ 10-point lead among independent voters – up from four points earlier this month.

Hagan is ahead by 10 points among women (48 percent to 38 percent), while Thom Tillis’ advantage with men is 11 points (49 percent to 38 percent).

Both Hagan and Tillis have upside-down fav/unfav ratings – Hagan at 41 percent positive, 48 percent negative; Tillis at 40 percent positive, 44 percent negative.

President Obama’s approval rating in the state stands at 38 percent among registered voters, down two points since earlier this month.

South Dakota

While Republican Mike Rounds leads the Senate contest, 43 percent of likely voters say independent Larry Pressler is their second choice, 18 percent pick Weiland and 10 percent say Rounds.

In the state’s gubernatorial race, incumbent Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard enjoys a 67 percent-to-28 percent lead over Democrat Susan Wismer.

Obama’s approval rating in the state stands at 33 percent.

The Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa and Kansas surveys were conducted Oct. 18-22. In Arkansas, 621 likely voters were reached by landline and cell phone, and the margin of error is plus-minus 3.9 percentage points. In Colorado, 755 likely voters were polled (plus-minus 3.6 percentage points); in Iowa, there were 772 likely voters (plus-minus 3.5 percentage points); and in Kansas 757 likely voters were contacted (plus-minus 3.6 percentage points.)

The North Carolina and South Dakota surveys were conducted Oct. 19-23. In North Carolina, 756 likely voters were polled (plus-minus 3.6 percentage points), and in South Dakota, there were 730 likely voters (also plus-minus 3.6 percentage points).