Poll: Murkowski Close in Alaska; Dems Pull Away in Calif.

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From left: Michael Dinneen / AP; J. Scott Applewhite / AP; Chris Miller / AP

From left: Joe Miller, Senator Lisa Murkowski, Scott McAdams

Correction Appended: Sept. 29, 2010

In Alaska, Republican Lisa Murkowski is giving the GOP nominee for her Senate seat, Joe Miller, a real race to contend with. Independent candidates are polling surprisingly strongly in Illinois' Senate and gubernatorial races. And in Florida, Republican Marco Rubio is pulling away from independent Charlie Crist. The campaigns of outsider candidates were the primary focus of this week's CNN-TIME-Opinion Research poll, which also looked at the Senate and gubernatorial races in California, where Democrats Barbara Boxer and Jerry Brown appear to be firming up leads against Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman.

In Alaska, Republicans Miller and Murkowski are locked in a statistical tie. Tea Party favorite Miller has a slight lead with likely voters, 38% to Murkowski's 36%. Trailing behind them is Democrat Scott McAdams, the mayor of Sitka, with 22%. Murkowski, who lost the GOP primary to Miller, still faces a steep uphill battle as a write-in candidate whose name won't actually be on the ballot Nov. 2. She polls best among non-whites, 49% to Miller's 24% and McAdams' 23%, a reflection of the strength of her support amongst Alaskan natives, though she losing the white vote to Miller 33% to 42%. Murkowski also leads Miller slightly amongst independents, which make up Alaska's largest voting bloc, 38% to 35%. Murkowski draws significant support from Democrats, 39% to McAdams' 55%, and she gets 32% of Republicans' backing, compared with Miller's 63%. In the Last Frontier's gubernatorial race, incumbent Republican Sean Parnell, who stepped into the breach when Sarah Palin resigned more than a year ago, leads his Democratic challenger, Ethan Berkowitz, comfortably 57% to 38%.

In Illinois, Alexis Giannoulias, the Democratic candidate for President Obama's old Senate seat, just barely leads Republican Mark Kirk, by a margin of 43% to 42% among likely voters, despite the fact that Green Party candidate LeAlan Jones draws a surprisingly strong 8% of the vote. And the gubernatorial race between Democrat Pat Quinn and Republican Bill Brady is tight, with Brady leading 40% to 38%, and two lefty candidates drawing a combined 18% of the vote: Green Party candidate Rich Whitney, 4%; and Scott Lee Cohen, a former Democratic lieutenant governor nominee, 14%. In fact, it's hard to tell which party these outside candidates are doing more damage to: Jones and Cohen each draw 8% of the Tea Party vote and Whitney has 3%.

Florida was the only state in the poll where the independent candidate seems to be fading. GOP nominee for Senate Marco Rubio, a former Speaker of the State House, is ahead with support from 42% of likely voters to Florida Governor Charlie Crist's 31% and Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek's 23%. Crist decided to run as an Independent after it became clear that conservative darling Rubio would beat him in the primary. In a CNN-TIME-Opinion Research poll earlier this month Crist and Rubio were locked within the margin of error, with Crist winning 34% of likely voters to Rubio's 36%. Meek garnered 24% in that poll conducted Sept. 2-7. Since then, Crist has lost ground with Republican voters to Rubio and Democratic voters to Meek. In the Sunshine State's gubernatorial contest Democrat Alex Sink, Florida's CFO, is in a tighter-than-expected contest with wealthy businessman Rick Scott. Sink, the early favorite, is losing 45% to Scott's 47%. Scott is pulling 50% of the independent vote compared to Sink's 37%.

The one state in the new poll where third party candidates are playing no role is California, where Democrats Barbara Boxer and Jerry Brown have cemented leads over their GOP opponents. Boxer pulled away from Republican challenger Carly Fiorina, a former Hewlett-Packard CEO, in her bid for a fourth Senate term. Boxer leads Fiorina 52% to 43% among likely voters. That's a significant improvement from earlier this month when a CNN-TIME-Opinion Research poll found Boxer just edging past Fiorina amongst likely voters 48% to 44%. Likewise in the gubernatorial race, Brown leads former eBay CEO Meg Whitman 52% to 43% among likely voters, a reversal of fortunes for Brown who earlier this month was losing to Whitman 46% to 48% in a poll conducted Sept. 2-7. Brown and Boxer both benefit from moderates breaking for them: 59% for Boxer to Fiorina's 32% and 59% for Brown to Whitman's 36%.

All four polls were conducted by telephone Sept. 24-28. In Alaska 927 likely voters were surveyed, yielding a margin of error of plus or minus 3%. In California and Florida, 786 likely voters in each state were polled and in Illinois 828 likely voters responded. All three of those states have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5%.

The original version of this story misstated some of the poll results.