WASHINGTON Veteran Democratic Senator Russ Feingold is struggling in his bid for re-election in Wisconsin due in part to concerns about his ability to help create jobs, a Reuters-Ipsos poll found on Tuesday.
With three weeks to go until the November 2 congressional elections, the poll found wealthy Republican businessman Ron Johnson leading Feingold by 51 percent to 44 percent among likely voters in Wisconsin.
Feingold, bidding for a fourth six-year term, had long been seen as a safe incumbent but a weak U.S. economy has generated doubts about him and many of President Barack Obama's Democratic allies.
Wisconsin is one of a dozen crucial races in the fight for control of the Senate, now controlled by Democrats.
Republicans are seen winning a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives from Democrats, but their chances of taking the Senate are slimmer.
After the vote, Obama is likely to face a more hostile Congress in 2011 and struggle to get approval for any climate change and immigrations bills.
A key victory for Republicans would be the Wisconsin seat. Johnson was seen in the poll as being "the best person to help generate jobs in Wisconsin" -- 49 percent compared to 36 percent for Feingold.
By a 42-28 percent margin, Feingold was more likely to be seen as "part of the problem with politics right now in this country," according to the poll.
"With some of the right messaging and campaigning and higher Democratic turnout than anticipated, Feingold could pull this back down, I suppose, but it's not looking very good right now," said Ipsos pollster Julia Clark.
Voters said Feingold's support for Obama's healthcare reform this year made little difference to their preference.
Clark said Feingold is likely suffering from an anti-incumbent backlash against Washington.
"I don't think it's that he's seen as incompetent or weak on any particular issue, I think it's simply that this is a race where there's a very specific set of circumstances that means incumbency is no good thing," she said.
In the Wisconsin governor's race, Republican Scott Walker leads his Democratic opponent, Tom Barrett, by 10 points, 52 percent to 42 percent.
Incumbent Governor Jim Doyle, a Democrat, has relatively weak job approval ratings, with 60 percent disapproving and 34 percent approving his job performance.
Republicans are highly motivated to vote in Wisconsin compared to Democrats, an "enthusiasm gap" that worries Democrats. The poll found 80 percent of Republicans and 60 percent of Democrats "certain" to vote in November.
The Ipsos poll of 600 registered voters, including 451 who said they were likely to vote, was conducted from Friday to Monday. The full survey of registered voters has a margin for error of 4 percentage points while the smaller sample of likely voters has a margin for error of 4.6 points.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Christopher Wilson)