A flurry of recent polls in Wisconsin appears to indicate that the race has flipped from one in which former Gov. Tommy Thompson (R) held a small but solid lead, to one in which his opponent Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D) has the lead.
Thompson won a hard-fought GOP primary, and immediately took the lead in general election polls. Thompson had been a popular governor of the state for literally the entire decade of the 1990s. He was first elected in 1986, and was reelected in 1990, 1994 and 1998. He left the governor's mansion to become Secretary of Health and Human Services under President George W. Bush.
With Baldwin not widely known statewide, Thompson's name recognition and lingering support from Democrats and independents gave him the early lead.
But Baldwin appears to have turned the tide as the race became more partisan following the Democratic National Convention, and Baldwin ran hard-hitting ads aimed at Thompson's record in D.C. Thompson entered the lobbying field after leaving his HHS cabinet post, and Baldwin has made that a major issue.
It is not unusual for an experienced candidate to rise based on name recognition and then fade when new, "what's he been doing since we were last paying attention" information comes out.
At the same time, Thompson may still be able to counter by portraying Baldwin as a liberal from eccentric Madison, who may have less appeal to parts of the Democratic coalition.
Moreover, there appears to be a moderate-to-strong Democratic tilt to almost all September polling. Some argue it is continuing after-effects of the historically late (on the calendar) Democratic convention. That's not clear yet, but there certainly appears to be an uptick in the favorability ratings of the president and the Democrats in general.
It's too early to tell how "real" it is.
On the other hand, there is some evidence that the Democratic mini-wave among the general population may not be shared among likely voters. The gap between "registered voters" and "likely voters" is always a difficult one to determine before the actual turnout on election day.
Rassmussen Reports is often viewed as a pro-Republican polling outfit, but they have also succeeded in identifying Republican trends among likely voters that other pollers fail to identify.
So does a new poll showing long-shot Pennsylvania challenger Tom Smith (R) within seven points, at 49-42, of incumbent Sen. Bob Casey (D) mean much?
Not much yet, but it is the first evidence that Smith might be crawling into the race.