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NBC Poll: GOP Senate Candidates Open Up Leads in Key States

Image: Democratic Challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes And Senate Minority Leader McConnell Locked In Tight Race

FANCY FARM, KY - AUGUST 02: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) signals to supporters as he arrives at the Fancy Farm picnic August 2, 2014 in Fancy Farm, Kentucky. With today's annual Fancy Farm picnic, a Kentucky political tradition, recent polls show McConnell and the Democratic nominee, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Grimes in a virtual tie. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images) Getty Images

NBC News Exclusive: New Polling on the 2014 Midterms 0:57

Republican Senate candidates have opened up leads in the key states of Arkansas and Kentucky, putting them in a strong position to win back the U.S. Senate, according to new NBC News/Marist polls.

But another NBC/Marist poll shows Democrats holding on in the blue state of Colorado, suggesting a limit to the gains that Republicans could make in November.

Cotton Appears With Romney, Calls Pryor Obama 'Foot Soldier' 2:23

In Arkansas, Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., leads incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor by five points among likely voters, 45 percent to 40 percent, with two minor candidates getting a combined 5 percent.

In Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is ahead of Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes by eight points among likely voters, 47 percent to 39 percent, with Libertarian David Patterson getting another 8 percent.

And in Colorado, incumbent Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., is up by six points over Rep. Cory Gardner, 48 percent to 42 percent.

To win control of the Senate, Republicans must pick up a net six seats, and they can do that by essentially running the table in states that President Barack Obama lost in 2012 – Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia.

But for a GOP wave to take place on Election Day, Republicans need to win in the blue and purple states that have given the party trouble in past cycles – like Colorado, Iowa and Michigan.

So these polls suggest a tale of red states vs. blue states: Republicans are winning the GOP-leaning states; Democrats – at least in Colorado – are holding on in the Dem-leaning ones.

Pryor loses his lead in Arkansas

While Cotton holds a five-point lead among likely voters in Arkansas’ Senate contest, he is tied with Pryor among registered voters at 41 percent each.

Yet back in May’s NBC/Marist poll, Pryor had an 11-point advantage here. (The May poll did not have a result among likely voters.)

President Obama’s approval rating in the state stands at 31 percent among registered voters.

And by a 44 percent-to-33 percent margin, voters say they would like to see Republicans in control of the U.S. Senate and House to serve as a check on Obama, instead of more Democrats in Congress to send a message that the GOP needs to work with the president.

Republicans also hold the edge in the state’s competitive gubernatorial contest, with former GOP Congressman Asa Hutchinson leading former Democratic Congressman Mike Ross among likely voters, 48 percent to 39 percent.

McConnell begins to pull away in Kentucky

In Kentucky, McConnell’s eight-point lead among likely voters shrinks to just seven points among registered voters, 45 percent to 38 percent.

That’s a change from May, when the candidates were essentially deadlocked – with McConnell at 46 percent and Grimes at 45 percent.

Grimes to McConnell: ‘I Don’t Need Hound Dogs to Track You Down’ 1:03

Like in Arkansas, Obama’s approval rate in the Bluegrass State stands at 31 percent. And a similar percentage prefer a GOP-controlled Congress serve as a check on the president, rather than to see Democrats elected to send a message of more cooperation with Obama.

Udall maintains his lead in Colorado

But it’s a different story in Colorado. Udall’s six-point lead over Gardner among likely voters turns into an eight-point advantage among registered voters, 48 percent to 40 percent.

That’s essentially unchanged from July’s NBC/Marist poll, which showed Udall ahead by seven points among registered voters.

What’s more, Obama’s job-approval rating in Colorado – at 39 percent – is slightly higher than it is in Arkansas and Kentucky.

And Colorado voters are divided over if they prefer Republicans in charge of Congress to check Obama (41 percent), or if they want more Democrats on Capitol Hill to send a message that the GOP should cooperate more with the president (39 percent).

The poll also shows incumbent Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper ahead of Republican challenger Bob Beauprez by four points among likely voters, 43 percent to 39 percent, with Libertarian Matthew Hess getting 5 percent.

The three NBC/Marist polls were conducted Sept. 2-4. In Arkansas, 639 likely voters (with a margin of error +/- 3.9%) and 1,068 registered voters (+/- 3.0%) were interviewed.

In Kentucky, there were 691 likely voters (+/- 3.7%) and 1,184 registered voters (+/- 2.8%). And in Colorado, there were 795 likely voters (+/- 3.5%) and 976 registered voters (+/- 3.1%).