The 2006 election year is just underway, and a poll centering on Missouri’s U.S. Senate race indicates a close battle between incumbent Republican Jim Talent and Democrat challenger Claire McCaskill, the current State Auditor. The survey, conducted earlier this week by the polling firm Research 2000 for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and KMOV-TV, finds 47 percent of those polled support McCaskill, while 44 percent back Talent. 9 percent are undecided. The same poll asked respondents about the their preferences for Missouri Governor – even though that race won’t be contested until 2008. 51 percent of those surveyed back Democrat Jay Nixon, the current Attorney General, while 43 percent support incumbent Republican Matt Blunt. 6 percent are undecided. The poll also asked Missourians about two initiatives that could appear on the November ballot. 64 percent of those surveyed support protection for all stem-cell research, while 32 percent would only allow adult stem-cell research. As for the proposal to raise cigarette taxes by 80 cents a pack, 63 percent of those polled say yes to the idea, while 28 percent say no.