(CNN) - The hotly contested race for Kentucky's open Senate seat is nearing an end with Republican nominee Rand Paul holding a seven-point lead, according to a new poll.
Fifty percent of likely voters support Paul in the CNN/Time/Opinion Research Corporation survey, while 43 percent back Democratic nominee Jack Conway.
Full results (pdf)
Three percent of those questioned say they'd vote for neither candidate if the general election were held today, while four percent have no opinion.
Paul's lead can be explained in part through a significant gender gap. He is holding a 16-point advantage among men, while Conway only holds a four-point lead among women.
Paul is crushing Conway by 37 points - 63 to 26 percent - among independents.
Perceptions of the conservative Tea Party movement, which has provided critical backing for Paul - are also affecting the race.
"Paul picks up nearly nine in ten voters who support the Tea Party movement, and Conway has almost the same share of voters who oppose it," noted CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "But 35 percent of likely voters are neutral towards the Tea Party, and unlike other Senate races, the Republican has a small advantage among that group."
The race is much tighter among the larger pool of registered voters, with Paul holding only a two-point advantage, 46 to 44 percent.
The race has drawn national attention partly as a result of allegations that Paul, as a student at Baylor University, belonged to a group that mocked Christians and once forced a woman to kneel before an idol named "aquabuddha."
Paul, an eye surgeon and the son of former GOP presidential hopeful and Texas Rep. Ron Paul, defeated Kentucky Sec. of State Trey Grayson in a divisive Republican primary.
Conway, Kentucky's attorney general, topped Lt. Governor Don Mongiardo in a bitter Democratic contest.
The CNN/Time/Opinion Research Corporation poll was conducted October 20-26, with 1,336 registered voters in Kentucky, including 785 likely voters questioned by telephone. The survey's sampling error is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points for registered voters and 3.5 percentage points for likely voters.
- CNN's Alan Silverleib contributed to this report