There's a commonplace in looking at election polls: They're a snapshot in time, and changing conditions can and do change the numbers as time goes on. When, for example, you have two political parties, and one has a settled nominee while the other has candidates still fighting it out, you have a condition that will change with time. Once the party still fighting it out settles on a nominee, its numbers (reflecting in part the new-found unity) tend to go up.
You can take that as a commentary on the presidential campaign: The fact that Republican John McCain's numbers, when matched against either of the battling Democrats Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, currently are close, is a long-term ominous sign for McCain.
But consider the local implications for the Oregon U.S. Senate race. The Rasmussen Reports polling just out shows Republican Gordon Smith winning 45%-42% against Democrat Jeff Merkley, and 47%-41% against Democrat Steve Novick. The season in Oregon has been dominated by the Merkley-Novick battling, and many Democrats in the state are as partisan in their choices between them as many Democrats nationally between Clinton and Obama. If they're this close now, in the heat of the battle - indeed, as the battle has been heating up - what will happen a few months from now?
Add to that the trend lines. Since polling February, according to Rasmussen, Smith has shed three points of support while Merkley has gained 12; in the race with Novick, Smith is down one and Novick is up six.
Could this have something to do with the unusual sight, on Oregon television, of attack ads from the Smith campaign hitting before the Democratic primary is even over? An unusual kind of action for a front runner to take . . .