For Democrats dispirited by the recent wave of gloomy midterm numbers for their party, an NBC/Marist poll released Monday offers a welcome respite. While Americans are dissatisfied and the president remains deeply unpopular, the survey finds Democrats to be competitive in three key Southern races: Arkansas, Georgia and Kentucky.
Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), considered one of the cycle's most vulnerable incumbents, has a 50-percent favorability rating in the poll, and leads Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) by 11 points among voters, 51 to 40 percent.
NBC/Marist's poll is one of three recently to show Pryor significantly ahead. Another live-caller poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation for The New York Times' The Upshot gave Pryor a 10-point lead, as did a survey for a pro-minimum wage group. Other surveys since April, most conducted using automated phone surveys, showed a closer race, with the Democratic firm PPP giving Pryor a 1-point edge, and two polls for Republican groups finding the race tied or with Cotton 3 points ahead. HuffPost Pollster's average currently gives Pryor a lead of just over 4 points.
NBC/Marist also gives Democrats a legitimate shot at a pickup of the open U.S. Senate seat in Georgia, currently held by retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.). The poll finds establishment candidates continuing to lead the GOP primary pack, with businessman David Perdue followed closely by Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) and former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel. Democrat Michelle Nunn, a former non-profit CEO, is within 4 points of her most likely rivals, tying Kingston, trailing Perdue by 4, and leading Handel by 3.
In Kentucky, another of the few possible pickup opportunities for Democrats, the poll shows Senate Minority Leader MItch McConnell essentially tied with Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes, 46 percent to 45 percent.
The HuffPost Pollster average also shows an even race.
“These are competitive states as far as the general is concerned,” Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, told NBC. “Arkansas, which was once thought to be Democrats’ most vulnerable [contest for an incumbent], may not be the most vulnerable.”
There are still significant warning signs for Democrats. In Arkansas and Kentucky, just a third of residents approve of President Barack Obama's job performance. In Georgia, he rates a slightly better 41 percent.
The polls were conducted between April 30 and May 6, using live interviewers to reach both landlines and cell phones. The survey included 876 registered voters in Arkansas, 2,196 in Georgia, and 2,353 in Kentucky.