Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) are in a dead heat in their high-stakes Senate battle, according to a pair of new polls from Vanderbilt University and Reuters-Ipsos, numbers that conflict with some other recent public polling, but that are closer to private polls from both sides.
The Vanderbilt poll finds Bredesen leading Blackburn 44 percent to 43 percent, well within its margin of error. Reuters finds Blackburn leading 47 percent to 44 percent.
That’s substantially different from some other public polling of the race that suggested Blackburn was taking a commanding lead. A poll Siena recently conducted for the New York Times found her leading by 14, and two other credible pollsters found her leading by five and eight points, respectively.
The Vanderbilt poll surveyed registered voters, an odd choice given that the election is less than three weeks away and most other pollsters have switched to a likely voter model.
But while strategists on both sides say they’d rather be Blackburn than Bredesen at this point, these numbers are more in line with the consensus view of those involved that this is still very much a competitive race.
Republicans believe Blackburn has a lead slightly outside the margin of error, while Democrats think the race is a complete jump ball. Bredesen’s campaign recently released internal polling showing him with a slight lead, though the campaign seemingly intentionally obscured its latest numbers by combining its last two polls.
Tennessee appears to be Democrats’ best chance at winning Senate control — a prospect that’s a major long shot at this point. Democrats need to net two seats, and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) looks all but cooked at this point. This means all of Democrats’ red-state incumbents need to win and they would additionally need to pick up hard-fought seats in Nevada and Arizona and pick off long shot seats in Tennessee or Texas.
But these polls suggest that Bredesen still has a chance, albeit one that would take a major surge at the end. That’s better news for Democrats than they’d received in other recent public surveys.