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Polls: Democrats run strong in Senate races

Three new polls of likely voters, conducted by Mason-Dixon, show Democrats with a real chance to make significant gains in the Senate. By NBC News Election Unit. [!]
Challenger U.S. Rep. Sherrod Brown answers questions from reporters after a debate in Washington
Rep. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, seen on Sunday, is in a virtual tie with incumbent Republican Senator Mike DeWine.Alex Wong / Meet the Press via Reuters
/ Source: NBC News

Three new polls of likely voters, conducted by Mason-Dixon, show Democrats with a real chance to make significant gains in the Senate.  In all three states, Republicans currently hold the seats.  The Democrats need to gain six seats in order to take control of the Senate.

Montana: Burns v. Tester
In Montana, incumbent Republican Senator Conrad Burns is trailing his Democratic opponent Jon Tester by a 47 percent to 40 percent margin with 3 percent supporting a third party candidate and 10 percent undecided.

This poll was conducted for Lee Newspapers.

Senator Burns is not viewed nearly as favorably as Jon Tester by the likely voters in this poll.  Only 36 percent view Burns favorably compared with 48 percent for Tester. And more, 45 percent view Burns unfavorably compared with 26 percent for Tester.

Given that Burns is the incumbent, those numbers indicate a significant problem for his re-election.

While the candidates are virtually tied among men, 45 percent for Burns, 44 percent for Tester, there is a large gap between them among women; Tester is supported by 50 percent of women compared to 35 percent who support Burns. 

Ohio: DeWine v. Brown
In Ohio, incumbent Republican Senator Mike DeWine and Sherrod Brown, his Democratic challenger, are in a virtual tie.  Brown is supported by 45 percent of likely voters and DeWine is supported by 43 percent.  Only 2 percent support a third party candidate and 10 percent are undecided.  The poll was conducted for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

DeWine is viewed about as favorably as Brown is by Ohio voters, 41 percent view DeWine favorably and 39 percent view Brown favorably.  But DeWine’s unfavorable rating, 33 percent, is substantially higher than Brown’s 22 percent.

Brown has significant support among Black voters where he leads DeWine by an 83 percent to 7 percent margin.  Among White voters, DeWine leads Brown, 47 percent to 41 percent.  There is a significant gender gap with women supporting Brown by a 47 percent to 39 percent margin and men supporting DeWine by a 47 percent to 43 percent margin.  The key to this race is likely to be the votes of independents.  In this poll, Brown leads among independents by a 52 percent to 33 percent margin.

Tennessee: Ford v. Corker
In Tennessee, in the open seat currently held by majority leader Bill Frist, Democrat Harold Ford, Jr. and Republican Bob Corker are in a virtual tie. Ford is supported by 43 percent of likely voters and Corker is supported by 42 percent.  Only 1 percent support a third party candidate and 14 percent are undecided.  The poll was conducted for the Memphis Commercial Appeal and the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Ford is viewed favorably by more Tennessee voters, 44 percent, than is Corker, 38 percent, and less unfavorably, 30 percent to Corker’s 35 percent.

Ford has significant support among Black voters, where he is ahead of Corker 91 percent to 3 percent.  Corker leads among White voters by a 49 percent to 35 percent margin.  And there is a significant gender gap as well.  Ford leads among women, 47 percent to 38 percent but Corker leads among men, 46 percent to 39 percent.  Independent voters in this poll give Corker the nod by a 43 percent to 33 percent margin but 23 percent of them are still undecided.

The 50 percent factor
Both Republican incumbents -- Sens. Burns and DeWine -- are significantly under the 50 percent threshold, and Burns is trailing significantly.

There are five weeks to go before the election, which is plenty of time for major events and shifts in voter preference.  But at least in these three Senate races, all Republican held seats, Democrats appear to have a real chance of winning.

These polls were conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, Inc.  Interview dates were: September 26 through September 28, 2006, in Montana, and September 25 through September 27, 2006, in Tennessee and Ohio.  A total of 625 likely voters in each state were interviewed by telephone. Those interviewed were selected by the random variation of the last four digits of telephone numbers.  A cross-section of exchanges was utilized in order to ensure an accurate reflection of the state. Quotas were assigned to reflect voter turnout by county. The margin for error, according to standards customarily used by statisticians, is no more than plus or minus 4 percentage points in each poll. This means that there is a 95 percent probability that the "true" figure would fall within that range if the entire population were sampled. The margin for error is higher for any subgroup, such as a gender or regional grouping.