Poll: GOP Ahead in Four Key Senate Races

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From left: Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle, moderator Mitch Fox and Senate majority leader Harry Reid appear at a debate in Las Vegas on Oct. 14, 2010

Democrats may not lose their Senate majority, but they appear in danger of losing their Senate majority leader. Less than a week before Election Day, Democrat Harry Reid trails Republican Senate nominee Sharron Angle in Nevada by 4 points, according to a TIME/CNN/Opinion Research survey that shows the GOP with late-in-the-cycle leads in four key Senate battleground states.

In each of those contests, Republican candidates are buoyed by big leads among independent voters. Despite trailing in Nevada's two most populous counties, Angle boasts a 15-point lead over Reid among independents and sizable margins among males, white voters and voters over 50, giving her a 49%-45% cushion overall. Angle has padded her lead in the race's closing stages; a TIME/CNN/Opinion Research poll earlier this month put her edge at 2 points, a tally within the margin of error. In the latest poll, Nevada Tea Party candidate Scott Ashjian drew 2% in the race, less than in previous surveys.

In Kentucky, Republican Senate nominee Rand Paul is following a similar formula, riding a wave of support from independents to a 50%-43% lead over Democrat Jack Conway, the state's attorney general, the poll found. Independents back Paul by a 63%-26% margin in the Bluegrass State, where President Obama's approval rating sits at 36%. The Bowling Green ophthalmologist, a Tea Party favorite who has endured a rocky general-election campaign, also has support among male Kentuckians and voters over 35.

The Senate clashes are tighter in Colorado and Pennsylvania, two crucial swing states that broke for Democrats in 2008 but could tip back to the GOP on Nov. 2. In the battle for the Senate seat being vacated by Arlen Specter, Republican Pat Toomey leads Democratic Representative Joe Sestak 49%-45%, thanks to a 13-point lead among independent voters. The Republican Party also has the lead in the race for the Pennsylvania governor's mansion, with nominee Tom Corbett, the Keystone State attorney general, leading Democratic nominee Dan Onorato 52%-45%.

In Colorado, Republican Senate nominee Ken Buck is clinging to a narrow advantage over Senator Michael Bennet, who was appointed to the post in 2009. Buck, who leads overall 47%-46%, has benefited from a 49%-36% cushion among independents and from his ability to tether Bennet to Obama, whose approval rating in Colorado is 42% overall and just 30% among independents. Buck's margin shrank slightly from last month, when respondents in a TIME/CNN survey gave him a 5-point edge.

Meanwhile, the race for Colorado governor remains a bright spot for Democrats amid a dark electoral landscape. Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, who sits at 51%, has been buoyed by disarray within the state's GOP, whose nominee, Dan Maes, garnered support from just 10% of respondents. Thirty-seven percent of likely voters backed Constitution Party candidate Tom Tancredo, a former Representative known for his virulent views on illegal immigration.

As they scramble to stave off a Republican bid for the upper chamber, Democrats may have to rely on California as their ultimate firewall. Incumbent Senator Barbara Boxer holds a 50%-45% lead over Republican challenger Carly Fiorina, while two-time former Democratic governor Jerry Brown leads Republican nominee Meg Whitman 51%-44% in the race for the governor's mansion. Democrats in both contests saw their leads hold steady from a similar survey taken last month. Californians also appear poised to reject Proposition 19, a ballot initiative that would allow adult residents to possess or grow up to 1 oz. of marijuana. Fifty-three percent of respondents oppose the measure, compared with 45% in support.

The TIME/CNN/Opinion Research poll was conducted Oct. 20-26 among some 1,500 voters in each of the five states surveyed. The margin of error among likely voters is +/-3.5%.