In Ohio, Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum, once considered one of the Democrats' most vulnerable incumbents, has a strong lead over the two Republicans seeking to oust him. A new statewide survey showed Metzenbaum with a 23-point lead against Cleveland Mayor George Voinovich and a 33-point lead over Rep. Bob McEwen. Although both Republicans have aired television commercials, the poll, conducted a month ago by the Institute of Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati, showed that Metzenbaum has widened his lead by nine points over both challengers since a similar poll last May.

Al Tuchfarber, director of the institute, attributed some of Metzenbaum's improvement to publicity over his role in opposing the confirmation of Judge Robert H. Bork for the Supreme Court. Metzenbaum also probably can thank the National Republican Senatorial Committee for its contribution to his recent success. The NRSC is responsible for putting out a memo linking Metzenbaum with various communist organizations and then was forced to apologize.

Voinovich has a 33-point lead over McEwen and a 40-point lead over Cincinnati Councilman J. Kenneth Blackwell, who has not announced. But a majority of Republicans -- 52 percent -- are undecided about whom to support in the May primary.

But Tuchfarber said, "Regardless of who the Republican nominee is, they're going to have a difficult time defeating Metzenbaum."