Charlie Melancon is in the race for Senate in Louisiana. When we polled him against David Vitter in July he trailed 44-32, but of course when we first polled Kay Hagan against Elizabeth Dole at the same time in the 2007 election cycle she was down 43-27 and went on to a nine point victory. The similarity between those races at this stage is that despite her early lead Dole had some baggage for her opponent to exploit and it's certainly the same case with Vitter.
Beyond that though we have some very interesting data from within that July poll that shows the possibilities for Melancon. Independent voters in Louisiana are some of the most conservative in the country. Barack Obama's approval rating with them is just 30%. And the independent voters in Southeastern Louisiana are even more conservative than the ones statewide- just 21% of them gave the President good marks when we polled there.
Beyond disliking the President, they actually like David Vitter more than the rest of the state does. His favorability with independents there is at 48%, better than his 44% number with the overall electorate.
For all that Melancon led Vitter with independents in that part of the state 50-37 on our poll. It's not a surprise- those are the same folks who have made it possible for him to serve three terms in Congress from a strongly Republican leaning district- and their support for him appears to be transferring to a statewide bid at this point.
The big question then is whether Melancon can translate the success he's had with those folks statewide- if conservative Democrats and independents in places like Monroe and Alexandria will find him as appealing as those in his Congressional District have. And also of course whether he can win over those folks while also generating enough enthusiasm from black voters to ensure that they turn out in an off year election.
Melancon certainly starts as an underdog, but he's shown he can find a path to victory in places where it's not easy for Democrats before.