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Latest SurveyUSA Poll Shows Dem Gains Likely in Senate Races

By Alan Abramowitz

Even though only 15 Republican Senate seats are up in 2006 compared with 18 Democratic seats, the latest Surveyusa approval ratings of all 100 U.S. senators provide reason for optimism for Democrats. Six GOP incumbents whose seats are up this year received approval ratings below 50% including Conrad Burns of Montana (42%), Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania (43%), Mike DeWine of Ohio (43%), John Kyl of Arizona (47%), Jim Talent of Missouri (48%), and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island (49%). All except Kyl appear likely to face serious, well-funded Democratic challengers in the fall. Recent polls show Santorum and Talent trailing their likely Democratic challengers and Burns, DeWine, and Chafee locked in close contests. In contrast, only two Democratic incumbents whose seats are up this year received approval ratings below 50%. Bill Nelson's approval rating was 49% in the latest poll of Florida voters, but his disapproval rating was a relatively low 34% and he has consistently led his likely GOP challenger, former FL Secretary of State Katherine Harris, by a comfortable margin in recent polls. Debbie Stabenow's approval rating was also 49% but her disapproval rating was only 39% and she, too, has been leading her potential Republican challengers by wide margins in recent polls. Democrats need to gain six seats to take control of the Senate. With at least five vulnerable GOP incumbents and a promising open seat contest in Tennessee where Republican majority leader Bill Frist is retiring, a pickup of six seats is not out of the question. At a minimum, Democrats are likely to gain several seats in the upper chamber and be well positioned to regain control in 2008 when a larger group of Republican seats will be up.