NASHVILLE — With more than 1 million early Tennessee voters having now weighed in on the general election, a new NBC News/Marist poll finds Tennessee Republican Marsha Blackburn leads Democrat Phil Bredesen among likely voters by 5 percentage points, a statistical dead heat given the survey's 5.7 point margin of error.
The survey found U.S. Rep. Blackburn of Brentwood edging out Bredesen, a former governor and Nashville mayor, by 51 percent to 46 percent in the 471-person survey, conducted Oct. 23-27 and released Tuesday.
Among all 764 registered voters in the survey, Blackburn's lead was narrower — 49 percent to 46 percent. The latest NBC/Marist survey differs from a previous Aug. 25-28 poll in which Bredesen led 48 percent to 46 percent among likely voters with a 4 percent margin of error.
At this point in the Nov. 6 contest, at least $73.22 million has been spent, including $27.2 million by the candidates themselves. But the remaining $46.12 million came from Democratic and Republican outside groups that are spending tens of millions of dollars on attack ads.
The Tennessee race to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Chattanooga has become a flashpoint in the national struggle over control of the Senate, where Republicans now have a 51 members to Democrats' 49.
Democratic outside groups are still playing catch-up with their Republican counterparts.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump is putting a lot of time and effort into keeping Tennessee Republican. This Sunday, Trump is holding a rally for Blackburn in Chattanooga, the third rally he's done for her this year.
The latest NBC/Marist survey also showed Republican businessman Bill Lee leading Democrat and former Nashville mayor Karl Dean in their contest for Tennessee governor by 57 percent to 40 percent, well beyond the poll's margin of error.
Bredesen shrugged off the latest survey during a late Tuesday afternoon campaign stop outside a polling station in the Bordeaux section of Nashville, a traditionally black neighborhood.
"I'm old enough to remember 2016, how far off the polls were in lots of places," Bredesen told reporters, alluding to presidential campaign surveys showing Trump trailing Democrat Hillary Clinton. "I'm very comfortable based on our stuff as to where I am. It is a very close race, there's no question about that."
The survey is "just one data point," Bredesen said, later telling reporters he doesn't believe Trump would be flying to Chattanooga for a Sunday rally on behalf of Blackburn if it wasn't a very close contest.
Later on Tuesday, Vox Populi Polling, a GOP-aligned firm, released its latest survey of 780 "active" voters that found 53 percent of those polled saying they backed or were leaning toward Blackburn and 47 percent saying they supported or leaned toward Bredesen.
The survey, which had a 3.5 percent margin of error, showed Lee ahead of Dean by 56 percent to 44 percent.
A Vox Populi late September, early October 567-voter survey found Bredesen leading Blackburn by 51-49 among voters who said they either planned to vote for or were leaning toward voting for one of the two hopefuls. That survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percent.
According to the Tennessee Secretary of State's office, at least 1.09 million Tennesseans had cast ballots through the first 11 days of early voting or through absentee ballots as of Monday. It features open races for U.S. Senate and governor for the first time since 2002.
In Hamilton County, 50,701 had already cast votes.
This year's state tallies have already blown past the total number of people who voted early or by absentee ballot in Tennessee's last two non-presidential fall contests in 2014 and 2010.
And they're close to knocking on the door of the 2016 presidential election here in Tennessee, where some 1.29 million early and absentee voters had shown up this far into early voting.
"We are very pleased 1 million voters have already cast their ballots," State Election Coordinator Mark Goins said of early voting, which continues through Thursday.
"Overall, poll officials have done an excellent job of assisting the voters. I expect the last two days of early voting to be strong. We are optimistic voters will continue to turn out for this important election."
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.