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Battle for the Senate

As we wrote above, the GOP's sharp attacks on the Democratic candidates for the Tennessee and Virginia Senate seats will be remembered as a pair of efforts to push Southern voters' buttons on race and values.  First Read asked strategists familiar with the internal polling on both sides what they're seeing to indicate whether or not these attacks have been effective.

"In both cases, voters will have a choice," e-mailed Pete Brodnitz, who polls for both Ford and Virginia nominee Jim Webb.  "Do they vote for the change that they clearly would like to see in the direction of the country, or are they more concerned that the Democrat is a risky choice because of the GOP attacks.  In both states," he asserts, "the GOP has over-reached with personal attacks that may or may not help mobilize the GOP candidate's base at the expense of their ability to reach out to Independents and moderates who are turned off by the GOP attempts at character assassination.  In both cases, the Republican message is also focused on sex and I think a lot of voters are going to be offended... when they are watching television with their children..."

"In the case of Webb I have not been in the field since the new attack hit," Brodnitz says.  "In Ford's case the smears are clearly backfiring on Corker."  Brodnitz says it's "evident in the polls."

But a GOP strategist familiar with the polling in the Tennessee race says of internal polling on his side, "There's been real positive movement on the ballot for Corker since the ad went up, although it's unclear whether that's due directly to the ad or it's also a by-product of the ad and Ford's reaction (he never contested the facts of the ad).  Either way Bob Corker has a lead over Harold Ford that he did not have a week and a half ago."

MSNBC.com's Tom Curry reports from Minnesota, where an open Democratic-held seat that once looked potentially competitive no longer appears that way.  "Four years ago, Republicans had high hopes for Minnesota," Curry writes, after Republicans were elected to a Senate seat and the governorship.  But this year, GOP Senate candidate Mark Kennedy never seemed to catch fire in his race against Democrat Amy Klobuchar.  To some degree, Kennedy blames the news media and its polling.  "The polling by a lot of the media outlets is deliberately designed to discourage the base," he told Curry Saturday.  "A lot of our base would just be energized by seeing the media really trying to steal the election."

With seemingly nothing to lose by being brutally frank, Kennedy has gone on TV with a somber ad that says, "We've made some mistakes in Iraq" but "leaving Iraq now will create a breeding ground for new attacks on America."  As he campaigned in St. Paul over the weekend, Kennedy told Curry, "I'm not tapping into a deep reservoir of a majority of people who want to hear what I am saying, but I have strong and deep convictions driven by the pleading of soldiers in the field to make sure that Americans understand the consequences of losing."

Kennedy and Klobuchar took part in one-hour debate Sunday night but it was mostly sedate, Curry says.  Kennedy was never really able to confront Klobuchar head-on and put her on the defensive.  Klobuchar skillfully stuck to a benign message: the solution to Iraq's turmoil would come by "working with other countries."  She didn't say which countries or what the work would entail.