TIME Poll: Women Giving Boost to Dem Senate Candidates

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Elaine Thompson / AP (2)

Washington Republican Senate candidate Dino Rossi, left, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

Women voters are emerging as a firewall for Democrats' hopes of holding the Senate in the 2010 midterm elections, steadying Democratic Senate chances in Washington and Delaware, and providing what could be their candidates' last hope in West Virginia and Wisconsin, where support for the party's picks is fading, a new CNN/TIME/Opinion Research poll of likely voters finds.

In three of the states, the Democratic senate candidates polled ahead of President Obama's approval rating among women, the poll shows.

The most striking gender gap is in Washington State, where incumbent Patty Murray holds an eight-point lead over long-time GOP office-seeker Dino Rossi. Murray is down 15 points with men in the state, but up a full 31 points with women. The poll of likely voters shows she has the support of 40% of men and 62% of women. Murray is also trailing Rossi with independents by 10 points, by a margin of 49% to 39%, but she is holding at least some women who no longer back President Obama. Obama's approval rating is 59% among women in the state, but just 36% among men. Overall, the state is divided on Obama, splitting 48% to 47% in his favor among all likely voters.

In Delaware, Republican Christine O'Donnell trails Democrat Chris Coons 38% to 57% among likely voters. Men aren't crazy about her: she trails 42% to 53% among Delaware males. But women strongly oppose her by a 27-point margin, 34% to 61%. Coons is managing to attract 17% of the Republican vote in the state, 20% of the conservatives and 71% of self-described moderates, the poll shows. He leads O'Donnell with independents by 55% to 39%. Overall, Obama breaks even in the state, with 47% approving and 47% disapproving of the job he's doing. Fifty-one percent of the state's women support Obama, a full 10 points less than support Coons.

West Virginia women are keeping the popular Governor Joe Manchin close in the tight special election to replace Sen. Robert Byrd. Manchin and Republican John Raese are tied 44% to 44% among likely voters, the poll shows. But Manchin is up 10 points with women, 49% to 39%, while Raese leads Manchin by 9 points among men, 49% to 40%. The two are virtually tied among independents, with 39% supporting Manchin and 40% supporting Raese. West Virginia often votes Democratic for the Senate and Republican for the Presidency, but Obama's disapproval numbers are particularly stark in the state. Sixty-three percent of likely voters disapprove of him, and both women and men say he is handling his job poorly: 66% of men oppose him, compared with 59% of women.

Incumbent Senator Russ Feingold is trailing his Republican challenger Ron Johnson, 44% to 52%, dropping two points from a September CNN/TIME/Opinion Research Poll. Men oppose Feingold 56% to 41%, while women break evenly in the poll, 48% for Feingold and 48% for Johnson. Feingold is getting hurt badly among independents, who support Johnson 57% to 38%. Obama's numbers in the state track the Senate race exactly: 52% approve of his handling of the job of President, while 44% disapprove; 56% of men oppose him, while 41% support him; women break evenly at 48%. Similarly, the Republican candidate for Governor, Scott Walker, leads the Democrat, Tom Barrett 52% to 44%.

The CNN/TIME/Opinion Research poll was conducted from October 8-12, 2010 among some 1,500 voters in each of the four states. The margin of error was +/-3.5%.