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Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, right, speaks during the 2018 Tennessee U.S. Senate Debate with Democratic candidate and former Gov. Phil Bredesen at The University of Tennessee Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018, in in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, Pool)

This story was updated Oct. 17, 2018, at 6:49 p.m. with more information.

NASHVILLE — Tennessee's U.S. Senate slugfest between Republican candidate Marsha Blackburn and Democrat Phil Bredesen is now a statistical tie, with a three-point advantage going to Blackburn, according to a new poll released Wednesday by Reuters/Ipsos/University of Virginia Center for Politics.

Forty-seven percent of 1,108 likely voters said they backed Blackburn, a Brentwood congress member, while 44 percent voiced their preference for Bredesen, the former two-term governor who has made the Nov. 6 election competitive in a normally red state.

The Oct. 4-11 poll's 3.4 percent margin of error made the race a statistical tie as Tennessee voters headed to the polls Wednesday for the first day of early voting.

A separate Reuters/Ipsos/University of Virginia Center for Politics poll shows an even closer contest in Georgia's governor's race between Republican Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams.

Kemp leads 47-46 percent, a statistically insignificant difference given the poll's margin of error. Two percent of voters backed Libertarian Ted Metz and 4 percent were undecided.

In the Tennessee poll, 3 percent of those surveyed said they intend to vote for an independent candidate, while 6 percent said they don't know whom they'll support or refused to say. One percent said they won't vote.

Georgia requires candidates to win elections by an outright majority. But Tennessee's law has no such provision and candidates can win with less than 50 percent of the vote, although that appears unlikely.

The Tennessee poll found 8 percent of Republicans said they support Bredesen or are leaning toward the former governor and one-time Nashville mayor, who says he will be a pragmatic moderate if elected to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Chattanooga.

That compares to 4 percent of Democrats who said they are backing or leaning toward Blackburn, a staunch conservative who has closely aligned herself with President Donald Trump, who has campaigned twice in Tennessee for Blackburn, as has Vice President Mike Pence.

The latest survey is a departure from two recent polls that showed Blackburn with a wider lead over Bredesen.

A release accompanying the Tennessee poll notes that on the generic ballot question, Republicans lead Democrats by 8 points — 50 percent to 42 percent — which is "making this close race all the more interesting, as Bredesen appears to be over-performing on multiple partisan measures."

Among likely voters, 53 percent approve of how Trump is handling his job, versus 46 percent who disapprove. The No. 1 issue to Tennessee's voters is health care, at 17 percent, an issue Bredesen has been hitting hard.

That's followed by immigration at 13 percent, which is among issues Blackburn has stressed. Twelve percent of voters cited the economy.

The University of Virginia Center for Politics noted that the new poll "does perhaps suggest that Blackburn may have slightly more room to grow than Bredesen: just 2% of self-identified Democratic likely voters said that they didn't know who they would support or refused to say, while 6% of self-identified Republicans said the same."

some text This combination of May 20, 2018, photos shows Georgia gubernatorial candidates Stacey Abrams, left, and Brian Kemp in Atlanta. With the Georgia governor’s race now set, the contest between Kemp and Abrams becomes a question of which candidate can move beyond their partisan bases to capture the electoral middle in this emerging battleground state. (AP Photos/John Amis, File)

The center also noted that Bredesen "does better among Democrats (a 92%-3% lead) than Blackburn does with Republicans (86%-7% lead), and he also has a giant lead among self-described independents (59%-21%), yet he still is not leading because of Tennessee's very Republican electorate."

Trump carried Tennessee by 26 points in 2016. No Democrat has won a statewide race since Bredesen's 2006 re-election as governor.

Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball, named after University of Virginia Center for Politics director Sabato, rates the Tennessee Senate race as "Leans Republican."

Regarding Georgia's razor-sharp difference in the governor's race between Kemp and Abrams, the Center notes "the tiny percentage" garnered by Metz "could be enough to throw the Georgia governor's race into a Dec. 4 runoff because it could deprive either major party candidate of the majority support required to win outright on Election Day."

The Crystal Ball rates the Georgia contest as "Toss-up/Leans Runoff," which reflects the possibility of the election going to "overtime. This finding of an effectively tied race generally reflects other recent surveys."

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.

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