O'Donnell cuts into Coons's lead in Del. Senate race

The Delaware GOP Senate nominee has nearly halved the lead Democratic rival Chris Coons holds over her in the First State's widely-watched Senate race, a poll released Friday shows.

In a Monmouth University poll, Coons now leads O'Donnell 51-41 percent, whereas two weeks ago, the New Castle County executive led the conservative activist 57-38 percent.

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The poll indicates that the Delaware race could have a closer result on Election Day than many elections analysts have predicted over the past few weeks.

The Delaware race drew widespread national attention after O'Donnell upset nine-term centrist Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) in the GOP primary. Before her win, GOP strategists viewed the race for Vice President Joe Biden's old Senate seat as a prime pickup opportunity that could help the party take control of the upper chamber.

But O'Donnell, who has run for Senate twice in the past, was seen as a weaker candidate than Castle. She struggled to get financial assistance from national Republicans, though Senate GOP Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) is expected to campaign for her this weekend. 

"While Coons still has the advantage, it has to be uncomfortable knowing that O’Donnell was able to shave 9 points off his lead in just two weeks. The interesting thing is that while her vote total has risen, the majority of Delaware voters still say she is unqualified for the post," said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. 

But even with the Monmouth poll, the Real Clear Politics polling average still shows Coons with a 15.8 percent lead on O'Donnell.

The poll was conducted before an anonymous posting on the gossip website Gawker that detailed an alleged sexual encounter O'Donnell had with a man three years ago after she lost her first bid to become senator. The O'Donnell campaign condemned the post as "just another example of the sexism and slander," pointing to criticism from the women's group NOW and some in the media. It also hit at Coons for not condemning the story.

Likely voters' favorability ratings of O'Donnell are still low in the Monmouth poll, but they are improved from two weeks ago. The survey shows that 34 percent of likely voters view the Republican as favorable opposed to 51 percent who say view her unfavorably. Two weeks ago the gap was at 31-58.

She has also made up ground among independent voters: two weeks ago she trailed Coons 51-41 percent in the key voting bloc, but this week the poll shows her leading 47-42 percent.

Monmouth surveyed 1,171 likely voters by phone from Oct. 25-27. The poll has a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points.

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