National rankings and a new poll suggest Congressman Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, may be closing in on incumbent U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu ahead of the fall election.

For starters, Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a website affiliated with the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, has once again adjusted Louisiana’s U.S. Senate race. It started as a “Toss Up,” was changed to “Likely Democratic” in October and is now officially back to “Toss Up.”

While the crystal ball gazers admitted that “we’re not going to underestimate (Landrieu), who has won three tough races and who benefits from a sterling political name,” they see a runoff with Cassidy as highly likely.

The report noted that Cassidy has also had some problems on his right flank, adding, “A Louisiana midterm runoff would be different and, admittedly, hard to predict.”

Further evidence that the race has tightened can be found in an independent poll that’s showing Cassidy ahead of Landrieu, 44 percent to 40 percent.

Rasmussen Reports, which leans conservative, surveyed 500 likely Louisiana voters over Tuesday and Wednesday. The margin of sampling error is +/- 4.5 percentage points.

Those called were asked, “In thinking about the 2014 election for U.S. Senate, suppose you had a choice between Republican Bill Cassidy and Democrat Mary Landrieu. If the election were held today, would you vote for Republican Bill Cassidy or Democrat Mary Landrieu?”

Also included in the poll was state Rep. Paul Hollis, R-Covington, who matched Landrieu’s 42 percent in a two-person hypothetical even though 40 percent of those polled had no idea who he was.

Landrieu’s overall favorable impression with respondents was 49 percent, compared to 47 percent unfavorable; Cassidy’s spread was 37-31 percent; and Hollis’ 31-20 percent. The main difference between Cassidy and Hollis, of course, is that the congressman has been campaigning for more than a year while the state rep has been on the stump for only a couple weeks.

While recent polls have shown Landrieu with a higher negative than positive job approval rating, this is the first poll to show her trailing in a trial heat in this campaign.

The poll result likely shows the effects of the heavy schedule of negative ads that have been run against her by Americans for Prosperity. In response, the Senate Majority PAC has stepped up its negative ads against Cassidy.

It’s also a sign that this race may be more about Landrieu’s vulnerability than the strength of her Republican opponents.

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