Polls show Democrats competitive in Southern Senate races

Democrats in three top southern Senate races are holding their own — and even running ahead in a few cases — against Republicans in a new poll out Monday.

A new series of NBC News/Marist polls show Democrats in Arkansas, Kentucky and Georgia are running even or ahead of their GOP opponents.

In the three red states, President Obama’s low approval rating is still troubling for Democrats who fear he could be a drag down-ballot. And while ObamaCare isn’t popular in any of the three states, Democrats appear to be weathering GOP attacks focused on the law.

In Arkansas, Sen. Mark Pryor (D) holds an 11-point lead over his GOP opponent, Rep. Tom Cotton, taking 51 percent support among registered voters to Cotton’s 40 percent support. Most surveys have shown a tighter race, but this is the third poll  since the start of April to show Pryor, long considered one of the cycle’s most vulnerable incumbents, ahead of Cotton by double digits.

In Kentucky, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is running neck-and-neck with Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, taking 45 percent support among registered voters to her 44 percent support. That's consistent with most surveys of the race, which show it to be one of the nation’s tightest.

McConnell leads his primary challenger, businessman Matt Bevin, by more than 30 points, in next Tuesday's contest. 

And in Georgia, Democrat Michelle Nunn is running anywhere from 4 points behind to 3 points ahead of her top five potential Republican opponents, who are all locked in a tight primary fight that will be decided in a week.

Businessman David Perdue takes 45 percent of the vote to Nunn's 41 percent; Rep. Paul Broun takes 43 percent to her 42 percent support; she ties Rep. Jack Kingston with 43 percent each; Nunn has 44 percent to Rep. Phil Gingrey’s 42 percent; and the Democrat has 42 percent to former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel’s 39 percent.

Like other surveys of the Georgia primary, Perdue and Kingston are in the lead but fail to top the 50 percent vote threshold needed to avoid a runoff. In the NBC/Marist survey, 23 percent of likely GOP primary voters said they support Perdue, 18 percent back Kingston, 14 percent support Handel, and Broun and Gingrey each take 11 percent.

On ObamaCare, the survey shows that about a third of voters in each state strongly or somewhat think the law was a good idea, while about half in each state say it was a bad idea.

All three surveys were conducted via landline and cellphone from April 30 through May 5. The Arkansas survey was conducted among 876 registered voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points. The Georgia survey was conducted among 1,066 registered voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, and the Kentucky survey was conducted among 2,353 registered voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. 

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