Hope and change? It’s easily her best poll of the month. And yet…

The contest remains Solid Democrat in the Rasmussen Reports Election 2010 Senate Balance of Power rankings.

Coons posted a similar 49% to 40% lead three weeks ago when Congressman Mike Castle whom O’Donnell defeated in the state GOP Primary was still pondering a write-in candidacy. Five percent (5%) supported Castle at that time. Castle has since announced that he will not run but has not endorsed O’Donnell, a conservative activist who remains a long-shot candidate in the traditionally moderate state.

The problem with drawing any grand conclusions from Ras this time is that his poll at the end of September was such an extreme outlier. That’s the only one since the primary to put her within single digits of Coons — and now, according to Rasmussen, she’s actually two points worse off than she was then. So we can spin this three ways: (1) The earlier poll was way off but today’s is accurate, in which case O’Donnell really has cut into Coons’s lead. (Note that the new poll was conducted yesterday, which means it should capture voter reaction to Wednesday’s debate.) (2) Both polls are accurate, in which case the net effect of the debate, the “I’m not a witch” ad, and the various Bill Maher-related nonsense is … a loss of two points. That’s an ominous trend, but on the bright side, at least she’s within 11 instead of 21. (3) Neither poll can be trusted at this point until we hear new numbers from other pollsters to see if they’re finding movement on her behalf too. The last is the prudent way to go, I think, especially since Rasmussen’s been using smaller samples than the other pollsters tracking this race. Check the scoreboard here: Ras polls 500 likely voters for his data whereas everyone else is polling a minimum of 700 LVs all the way up to a maximum of almost 1,200. The more people you poll, the lower the margin of error is. So maybe that’s the reason why she’s doing better in Rasmussen than elsewhere — in both of his polls since the primary, the higher margin of error could be inadvertently boosting her numbers. Like I say, we’ll have to wait for what the rest of the polling field says this weekend.

If she really is within 11, though, then the NRSC might have to think about a new ad purchase in the final week to give her a shot. And note that both Rasmussen and that Survey USA poll from a few days ago showing Coons with a 21-point lead have five percent of voters saying they’ll support a third-party candidate and somewhere between four and nine percent of voters undecided. That won’t matter if Coons is up, say, 12 points on election day, but if he’s only up six or seven and O’Donnell has momentum, who knows how they’ll break? Especially with Coons doing his best these days to come off as a patronizing tool. Exit quotation from Ted Kaufman, who was one of the speakers at today’s Obama/Biden rally for Coons in Delaware: “Kaufman says when Coons wins, he’ll be ‘the witch slayer.'”