Poll: Republicans Close in Three Key Senate Races

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Billy Suratt / Apex MediaWire / ZUMA

GOP Senate nominee Rand Paul, at the annual Graves County Republican Party Fancy Farm Picnic Breakfast on Aug. 7, 2010

Republican Senate nominee and Tea Party favorite Rand Paul is running even with Democratic candidate Jack Conway in Kentucky, according to a new CNN-TIME–Opinion Research poll of registered voters. And two other key Senate races are nearly as close, the new survey found.

In California, incumbent Senator Barbara Boxer, a Democrat, is leading Republican Carly Fiorina, a former Hewlett-Packard CEO, by a margin of 48% to 44%. And former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, a Republican, is struggling to break away from former governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, in the race to replace Arnold Schwarzenegger at the helm of the Golden State. Whitman leads Brown 48% to 46%, well inside the margin of error.

In Florida, Republican Marco Rubio and independent Charlie Crist are neck and neck in the race for Mel Martinez's old Senate seat. Rubio, a former Florida house speaker, leads Crist, a former Republican and the current governor, 36% to 34%, inside the margin of error. Trailing behind them is Democratic Representative Kendrick Meek, with 24% of the vote. Also in the Sunshine State, Democrat Alex Sink, Florida's chief financial officer, is leading billionaire Rick Scott 49% to 42% for the governor's mansion in Tallahassee.

In the Kentucky Senate race, Paul and Conway are dead even with 46% of the vote apiece. Conway is losing to Paul, an ophthalmologist and son of libertarian Ron Paul, in all age groups save one, 50-64, which Conway is winning 51% to 42%. Conway is winning in urban areas like Jefferson County — 61% to Paul's 30% — and maintains a slight lead with suburban voters, 47% to 44%. Paul is winning in the rural areas, 50% to Conway's 42%. Paul's strength comes from independent voters, a group he's winning by 50% to 39%.

Brown, 72, is winning the senior-citizen vote in California, 50% to 47% (many of these voters may remember his successful first tenure as governor from 1975 to 1983). Whitman, 54, is winning younger voters ages 35 to 49, by a margin of 51% to Brown's 44%. Whitman is also winning among independents, 48% to 43%, and is drawing 10% of Brown's Democratic vote. Brown dominates in the urban areas, 54% to 41%, while Whitman is winning in suburban areas, 52% to 40%, and rural areas, 61% to 37%.

Of the two women fighting for Boxer's Senate seat, Boxer leads Fiorina among women, 48% to 43%. Boxer is winning the younger vote — those under 50 prefer her 51% to 39%, while Fiorina has an edge with those over 50, 49% to 46%. Boxer is leading with independent voters by 5 percentage points, 45% to 40%, while Fiorina is winning in the suburbs 48% to 45%.

In Florida, Crist, not surprisingly, is leading independents with 45% of the vote to Rubio's 29% and Meek's 16%. Rubio has the lion's share of the GOP vote, 70% to Crist's 21%. Crist is splitting Meek's Democratic vote: Meek has the support of 54% of Dems to Crist's 36%. Crist is winning women, with 35% of the vote to Rubio's 32% and Meek's 28%. Meek leads in urban areas with 37%, and Rubio leads in rural and suburban areas with 37% and 39%, respectively, whereas Crist polls 34% across all three areas (urban, suburban and rural). Crist is winning with poorer voters — those who make less than $50,000 a year — with 37% to Meek's 29% and Rubio's 28%. Rubio wins among voters who make more than $50,000, 39% to Crist's 33% and Meek's 22%.

Sink leads with female voters 50% to 39%, with independents by 50% to 37% and with those under 50 by 52% to 38%. Scott, though, has a tiny lead with suburban voters, 45% to Sink's 44%.

All three polls were conducted via telephone by Opinion Research Corp. Sept. 2-7. In California, 866 registered voters were queried; in Florida, 899 registered voters; and in Kentucky, 869 registered voters. All three polls have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5%.