For all of the talk about Missouri, Tennessee and Virginia, could control of the U.S. Senate come down to Montana and Arizona? It's too early to say. And in a campaign season with as many unexpected turns as this one, it feels like it's getting earlier every day.
A week ago, we felt pretty confident that Jon Tester would roll over Conrad Burns in Montana, that Jim Webb would never make up enough ground to beat George Allen in Virginia, and that Harold Ford. Jr and Bob Corker and Claire McCaskill and Jim Talent would run neck-and-neck to the finish in Tennessee and Missouri. Arizona? It wasn't on our radar, nor was it much of a focus for anybody else trying to do the takeover math.
So where are we today? A better question is, where are George W. Bush and Chuck Schumer? Bush is in Montana today, where Burns is closing the gap quickly on Tester. A new Reuters/Zogby poll out today has Tester up by just one point now, down from a four-point lead he held in the same poll last month and well within the margin of error. Schumer is in Washington, but he's talking about Arizona. According to National Journal's Hotline, Schumer's DSCC will release a memo today in which its pollsters say that Democrat Jim Pederson is leading Republican incumbent Jon Kyl by four percentage points among Arizona residents who have participated in early voting there. Schumer's response: Buy as much TV time as possible in Phoenix and Tucson in the hopes of picking up another Senate seat and/or building some protection in case something goes south somewhere else.
As for the other Senate races most in play right now? Add today's Reuters/Zogby poll into the mix, and Webb is ahead of Allen -- at least by within-the-margin-of-error numbers -- in four straight polls. On the other hand, Ford trails Corker in four out of five recent polls; he's down by 10 points in the new Reuters/Zogby poll, a dramatic drop from the one-point deficit the poll showed for him last month. The only constant seems to be the McCaskill-Talent race in Missouri, and by "constant" we mean only that it's still pretty impossible to measure. Reuters/Zogby has McCaskill up by three; in the 10 most recent polls we've seen, four have McCaskill ahead, four have Talent ahead, and two have the race tied.
How do the numbers look overall? We're still betting that the Democrats fall a seat or two short of taking the Senate, but it's harder than before to say which seats fall on which side of the equation. For what it's worth, Reuters offers Democrats a more bullish spin: Democrats now hold leads -- small though they may be -- in six of the seven most competitive Republican-held districts, which would be enough to give them control of the Senate on Nov. 7 so long as they also succeed in defending Maryland and New Jersey.