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Senate Update: California May Be Out of Reach for G.O.P.

A new poll from Field Research, highest-rated polling firm in our database, gives Barbara Boxer an 8-point lead, 49 to 41, over her Republican challenger, Carly Fiorina. While Ms. Fiorina’s chances had already been on the decline — California has been very widely polled, and most of the surveys have shown Ms. Boxer holding a lead in the mid-single digits — the new poll on Friday harms her odds somewhat further. Given the robustness of the polling (and how close we now are to Election Day), our model gives Ms. Fiorina just a 4 percent chance of making a comeback, down from 7 percent on Thursday.

The reason this relatively small change is in fact quite important is because the California race was providing the Republicans with at least some redundancy in how they might win enough seats to take over the Senate. Along with Washington and West Virginia, it was one of three tipping point states that were most important to their overall probability of getting to 51 seats.

Increasingly, however, it looks unlikely that Republicans can win the Senate race in California. And most of the remaining scenarios would involve their having had such a good night nationally that Washington and West Virginia would already already be hand, making California superfluous.

So, unless something changes dramatically in the last weekend of the campaign, it looks like we may be down to two tipping-point states —West Virginia and Washington — from three.

There was also new polling in Washington on Friday: SurveyUSA showed an exact tie at 47-47 between Dino Rossi and Patty Murray, while a poll by the University of Washington put Ms. Murray 6 points ahead among likely voters. There is basis to critique both surveys. SurveyUSA has consistently underestimated the performance of Democrats in Washington (although much to their credit, they included a cellphone sample in this poll). And the likely voter results in the University of Washington poll were collected over two separate waves of polling, one of which had occurred earlier this month.

The University of Washington poll also showed Ms. Murray with a larger lead among likely voters than among registered ones, something which has been uncommon for Democrats this year — although another polling firm, CNN, has shown the same thing in their surveys of Washington state, and the fact that the state votes mostly by mail may lessen the enthusiasm gap there.

Trendlines in both of the new polls suggest that the race has moved a bit toward Mr. Rossi. Still, the question is whether it has moved enough, particularly given that much of the state has already sent in their ballots. Our model thinks Ms. Murray is about 3 points ahead, and puts her win percentage at about 83 percent (up slightly from 80 percent the day before). That seems a little aggressive but only slightly so, given that Rasmussen Reports remains the only nonpartisan polling firm to have shown Mr. Rossi with a lead of any kind since August.

As we mentioned Thursday, our forecast is highly sensitive to polling in Washington and California, as well as West Virginia, and so we have Republicans’ odds of winning the Senate on Nov. 2 down on Friday, to 10 percent from 13 percent Thursday.

Apart from the polling in California and Washington, Friday’s Senate polling was fairly strong for the G.O.P.:

  • Another poll in Nevada, this time from Mason-Dixon, gives Sharron Angle a 4-point lead over Harry Reid. The model has her winning chances, which have increased steadily over the past week, up to 81 percent.
  • A Wisconsin poll, from Public Policy Polling, has Russ Feingold 9 points behind Ron Johnson, reducing his upset chances to 6 percent.
  • Several new polls in Kentucky are broadly agreed that the Republican, Rand Paul, has a lead of about 8 to 10 points. The Democrat, Jack Conway, has only about 1 percent chance that the polling will turn out to be significantly in error.
  • Charlie Crist has plenty of problems — and two new polls put him 20 points behind Marco Rubio in Florida, contradicting earlier surveys that suggested he had somewhat narrowed his deficit.

The trends in these states assure that the Democrats will see their numbers in the Senate significantly reduced: they now have only an 8 percent chance to hold onto 55 or more seats. But states like Kentucky and Wisconsin would not suffice to allow the G.O.P. to actually take control of the chamber.

Nate Silver founded and was the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.