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Dueling polls in Colorado Senate race

1. Two new polls present differing pictures of the the race between appointed Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet (D) and Weld County prosecutor Ken Buck (R), one of the marquee contests on the ballot this fall.

In a Reuters/Ipsos poll, Buck led Bennet 49 percent to 40 percent among likely voters, with 10 percent undecided. (Democrats insisted that the poll's partisan breakdown -- 48 percent Republican, 40 percent Democrat and 8 percent unaffiliated -- vastly underplays the size of the independent vote in the state.)

Bennet's campaign will release numbers of its own today showing the incumbent at 44 percent to Buck's 40 percent. That poll was in the field from Aug. 16-20 and conducted by Bennet campaign pollster Paul Harstad.

Both Buck and Bennet won their party nominations in closely contested primaries earlier this month. Buck's victory was somewhat unexpected as much of the state and national party establishment supported former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton's candidacy.

Democrats immediately seized on Buck's victory as one of myriad examples of tea party-backed candidates upsetting the GOP establishment's apple cart and imperiling the party's chances of winning seats this fall.

But, while Buck clearly had more tea party support than Norton, he also spoke out against certain elements of the movement -- calling them "dumbasses" -- and is less of a candidate of and for the tea party than people like Sharron Angle in Nevada or Rand Paul in Kentucky.

Whether the Ipsos poll or the Bennet internal survey is right, both suggest that Buck is a credible candidate who presents a real threat to the incumbent this fall. And, given the primacy of Colorado to both parties' national strategy heading into 2012, the race is sure to get lots of attention (read: money from both sides over the final two months of the midterms.

2. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski's (R) fate remains unknown more than 24 hours after polls closed in Alaska's Senate primary -- and is likely to stay that way for days to come.

Murkowski trailed attorney Joe Miller (R) by a margin of 1,668 votes with 100 percent of precincts reporting. She said at an Anchorage press conference Wednesday that it's "too premature" to discuss whether she might run as a write-in or third-party candidate if she was to ultimately come up short in the primary.

Murkowski said that her camp will wait for all absentee ballots to be counted before she decides on her political future, telling reporters that "it ain't over yet." There are about 8,000 absentee ballots that remain to be counted, and the Alaska Elections Division has said that it may take a week or more to count them.

If the final tally shows Murkowski trailing Miller, her options appear to be limited. It seems she may be able to pursue a bid as a write-in candidate or possibly run under the banner of the Alaskan Independence Party. But a chairman for that party said that that the party would "absolutely not" consider giving Murkowski its nomination.

A Murkowski loss would mean that she becomes the third incumbent senator this cycle to lose re-election in an intraparty battle, following losses by Sens. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) and Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) earlier this year.

Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams affirmed Wednesday that he is not planning to leave the race amid rumors that he might step aside in favor of a better-known candidate such as former Gov. Tony Knowles (D) who lost a 2004 race to Murkowski.

"I believe that we'll beat Joe Miller," McAdams said at a press conference. He argued that Alaskans "are ready for change," adding: "I am that change, not Joe Miller."

McAdams had less than $5,000 on hand as of his most recent fundraising report. At Wednesday's press conference, he declined to say whether he has been in touch with national Democrats regarding his candidacy.

3. Establishment Republicans said Wednesday that they would get past hard feelings left by a vicious gubernatorial primary and stand by new Florida Republican governor nominee Rick Scott.

Republican Governors Association Chairman HHaley Barbour (Miss.) and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, both said they would support the self-funding former health care executive. State Senate President Mike Haridopolos, state House Speaker Dean Cannon and state House Republican leader Adam Hasner-- all of whom endorsed McCollum -- have also indicated they will support Scott.

State Attorney General Bill McCollum is still a notable holdout, however. Scott beat McCollum in a nasty primary fight in which the entirety of the Florida Republican establishment sided with state's top cop. At one point late in the campaign, the RGA publicly rebuked Scott over a campaign ad - a move seen as an indication of the fact that it preferred McCollum as the nominee.

As of late Wednesday, news reports indicated McCollum and Scott had still not spoken since the result became official late Tuesday. McCollum issued a less-than-magnanimous statement describing Scott as a a "multi-millionaire with a questionable past who shattered campaign spending records".

The RGA, meanwhile, sought to expand on a notably lukewarm statement acknowledging Scott's win on Tuesday night, releasing a statement from Barbour on Wednesday afternoon. "The voters of Florida took a close look at Rick Scott and believe he is the candidate who can best revive the state's economy and put Florida back to work," Barbour said.

Bush's backing was more tepid, not actually praising Scott but congratulating him nonetheless: "I congratulate Rick Scott and the Republican candidates who are answering the call to public service. We must now unite and work together for victory in November."

Democrats believe Scott's nomination gives their candidate -- state CFO Alex Sink -- an edge heading into the fall.

4. A supposedly Democratic-trending district in suburban Philadelphia presents Republicans with a real pickup opportunity, according to a new internal GOP poll.

The Public Opinion Strategies poll conducted by Neil Newhouse for the campaign of former Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) shows him leading two-term Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.) 48 percent to 41 percent. The two are running a rematch of a very tight 2006 campaign, won by Murphy.

Perhaps more interesting than the head-to-head numbers though Murphy - are the atmospherics in the district. Despite the area trending Democratic in recent years, President Obama's disapproval is 10 points higher than his approval. Republicans also hold a surprisingly wide lead on the generic ballot: 50 percent to 34 percent.

The GOP didn't even bother to place a buy in the district in their first round of advertising, which included 41 other districts. Much of that has to do with the high cost of TV in the district -- it is in the Philadelphia media market -- but, to date, it has also been considered a lower-tier target for the GOP.

Districts like Murphy's are supposed to be the Democrats' firewall. They've got a young, attractive incumbent with a solid profile running in an expensive suburban area that should be harder for Republicans to penetrate.

Republicans believe that if they can win districts like Murphy's, it's game over for the Democratic majority.

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With Felicia Sonmez and Aaron Blake

By Chris Cillizza  | August 26, 2010; 7:45 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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Next: Republican lawyer heads to Alaska for Lisa Murkowski

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