Poll: Murkowski Close; GOP Leads in Ark., Fla., Ohio

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Chris Miller / AP (2)

Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, left, and Alaska Senate nominee Joe Miller

Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski's hopes for re-election may come down to how many of her supporters get discouraged at the voting booth when they attempt to write in her name, according to a new TIME/CNN/Opinion Research poll.

The poll, which was conducted between Oct. 15 and 19, found that Murkowski, a write-in candidate, was locked in a dead heat with Republican nominee Joe Miller, a Tea Party favorite who upset her in the Aug. 24 primary. Each of them drew 37% of likely voters, with the Democrat Scott McAdams trailing by double digits with 23%.

But upon further questioning, only 80% of Murkowski's supporters ruled out the possibility of voting for another candidate if they found "the procedure for casting a write-in vote is different or more complicated" than expected. Ten percent of Murkowski's supporters said they were either somewhat or very likely to vote for another candidate if they found the procedures more complicated, while another 8% of Murkowski supporters felt that it was "not too likely" that they would vote for another candidate.

In three other states, Arkansas, Florida and Ohio, Republican Senate candidates enjoy comfortable double-digit leads over their rivals. But Democrats can glean some hope that with less than two weeks to go until Election Day, Ohio Governor Ted Strickland has erased Republican challenger John Kasich's lead of the past few months, the poll found.

In Arkansas, Republican John Boozman enjoys a 14-point lead over incumbent Democrat Blanche Lincoln, who is polling at only 41%. In Florida, Republican Marco Rubio is pulling 46% of likely voter support, 14 points ahead of independent candidate Charlie Crist and 26 points ahead of Democratic candidate Kendrick Meek. In Ohio, Republican Rob Portman has a 15-point lead over his Democratic rival, Lee Fisher, who is attracting only 40% of likely voters.

The polls in Alaska have remained relatively static over the past three weeks. But observers have questioned the reliability of conventional polling given the unusual nature of a statewide write-in campaign. The only U.S. Senator to run a successful write-in campaign was South Carolina's Strom Thurmond in 1954. In recent weeks, Murkowski has launched a major education effort to teach voters about the mechanics of voting for a write-in candidate on the ballot. Though an incumbent Senator with a particularly famous last name in the state — her father is a former governor and Senator — Murkowski's name will not appear in voting booths on Nov. 2. Among likely voters for Murkowski, 93% said they were "very confident" that they knew the correct procedure for writing in her name. Another 6% of likely voters for Murkowski said they were "somewhat confident."

The poll also showed that Democratic gubernatorial candidates were faring far better than their Senate peers in Arkansas, Florida and Ohio. In Alaska, Republican gubernatorial candidate Sean Parnell garnered 62% likely voter support, giving him a 26-point lead over his Democratic rival, Ethan Berkowitz.

In Arkansas, by contrast, where the incumbent Democrat, Blanche Lincoln, appeared to be headed for defeat, the incumbent Democratic governor, Mike Beebe, held a comfortable 27-point lead over his Republican opponent, former state senator Jim Keet. In Florida, where the Democratic Senate candidate, Kendrick Meek, was polling at just 20%, the Democratic candidate for governor, Alex Sink, was narrowly trailing Republican Rick Scott by just 3 points, making the race a dead heat, given the poll's margin of error. And in Ohio, incumbent governor Ted Strickland was polling at 48%, 1 point ahead of his Republican opponent, John Kasich. Yet the Democratic Senate candidate, Lee Fisher, was trailing his Republican opponent, Rob Portman, by 15 points.

The poll was conducted by telephone between Oct. 15 and 19. The margin of error among likely voters was 3.5% for Arkansas, Florida and Ohio and 3% for Alaska.