GOP gubernatorial candidate Tim Shallenburger may be within range of an upset victory over perceived Democratic front-runner Kathleen Sebelius, according to the latest World Company Poll.
Earlier polls have shown Shallenburger, the state treasurer, far behind Sebelius, currently insurance commissioner. But the new data shows Shallenburger with a razor-thin lead in one congressional district and close enough in another to close the gap.
Statewide, the new poll found, Sebelius is leading Shallenburger 49 percent to 42 percent. Seven percent of voters were undecided and 2 percent support minor party candidates.
"He's definitely gaining ground," said Brad Coker, managing director for Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. Mason-Dixon conducted the polling for The World Company, which owns the Journal-World, World Online and 6News.
The telephone survey of 625 likely voters statewide taken Tuesday and Wednesday may offer the last survey of shifting voter sentiment as undecided voters continue making choices. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Coker said Shallenburger's gains were coming from previously undecided Republican voters. He said it was important to note, though, that Sebelius' overall support remained constant.
'A Republican state'
"If her support was dropping, you could make the case that Shallenburger was on a surge. But her numbers don't seem to be moving," Coker said. "She has a strong base in Democrats, Independents and a strong core of Republicans. She seems to have that base relatively secure. She is definitely the favorite, but again, it is a Republican state."
And Shallenburger is known for peaking at the right time. In the Republican Party primary in August, Shallenburger came from behind the pack to win handily.
Mark Peterson, a political science professor at Washburn University in Topeka, said he was surprised Sebelius' lead had shrunk so much. A Harris News Service poll last week had Sebelius up by 19 points, while a Kansas City Star poll earlier this week showed her leading by nine points. In July, The World Company Poll surveyed matchups with Sebelius and the three leading GOP contenders. In that poll, she held a 16-point point edge over Shallenburger.
Peterson attributed Shallenburger's improvement in the polls to several factors Â conservative Republicans are making their preference known, some moderate Republicans have decided to support the conservative Shallenburger, and high-profile visits to Kansas by national Republicans such as Vice President Dick Cheney probably have energized some GOP voters.
"If I was in the Sebelius camp right now, I would tighten it up a notch and work harder," Peterson said. "But I don't think I would be fearful that it's a harbinger of a catastrophe."
Breaking it down
Among women, Sebelius leads Shallenburger 54 percent to 37 percent; Shallenburger holds a 47 percent to 44 percent lead among men.
Sebelius is supported by 27 percent of Republicans, 56 percent of unaffiliated voters and 79 percent of Democrats. Shallenburger is supported by 65 percent of Republicans, 29 percent of independents and 13 percent of Democrats.
By congressional districts, Sebelius leads in the 1st, 2nd and 4th Â the 2nd includes western Lawrence and Topeka. But Shallenburger leads in the 3rd District, which includes eastern Lawrence and Johnson County.
Shallenburger's campaign hailed the poll's results.
"It certainly puts us within a very good shot to win this thing," Shallenburger spokesman Alan Cobb said. Shallenburger on Thursday was doing radio interviews before heading to Manhattan to give a speech.
Shallenburger is actually within the poll's 4 percent margin of error. But Coker said the chances of an eight-point swing in the poll were extremely remote.
Sebelius' spokeswoman Nicole Corcoran-Basso said the campaign had long expected a tight race come Election Day.
"We've always expected a close, competitive race, and we've run our campaign with that firmly in mind," she said.
Sebelius was campaigning Thursday in Wellington and Newton.