Republicans could pose a serious challenge to President Barack Obama in Minnesota in 2012, suggests a new MPR News-Humphrey Institute poll.
But it depends on the type of candidate.
The poll found that if former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin or U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann were at the head of the 2012 Republican ticket, President Obama would handily win by at least 20 percentage points.
But if the GOP nominee were Gov. Tim Pawlenty or former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the race in Minnesota would be much closer. Even though neither has yet formally launched a campaign, Romney would be within seven points of Obama, Pawlenty nine.
Pawlenty is heading back to New Hampshire to campaign for the GOP candidate for governor there. Many expect Pawlenty will announce a presidential campaign next year.
University of Minnesota political science professor Larry Jacobs, who directed the poll, said the results show if the anti-government tea party faction of the GOP is in control in 2012, Republicans could have a hard time winning the White House.
"The big message here is that it's going to depend who the Republicans put up as a presidential candidate as to how competitive they are in the more moderate states like Minnesota," Jacobs said.
The poll surveyed 750 likely Minnesota voters between last Wednesday and Sunday. It has a conventional margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points and a more conservative margin of 5.1 percentage points.
The poll shows Minnesotans are split on Obama's job performance: 48 percent approve, 48 percent don't.
But there's no split on feelings toward Washington.
Nearly eight in 10, or 79 percent, said they "never" or "only sometimes" trust the federal government.
It's not hard to find Minnesotans who reflect such sentiments.
Don Schroer, 75, falls into the "never" trusts Washington category. He said he's ready for change, and not the kind the 2008 election brought.
"I'd remove them all, put people in from outside of the D.C. area," Schroer said outside a St. Paul grocery store. "Get rid of the politicians and get some people back in that know what's going on in the street."
The poll also found 50 percent of likely Minnesota voters are looking for someone else to represent them in Congress.
"I'm looking for a big change like everybody else," said another shopper, 87-year-old Ethel Katz of St. Paul. "I have children and great grandchildren and I don't want them to suffer down the road."
Katz said she thinks the Washington bureaucracy is too big and spends too much money. She also said she thinks unemployment is worse than the picture government statistics paint.
She said she knows people who've have lost their businesses but who don't show up in the numbers because they don't receive unemployment assistance.
Jacobs said the poll found by far Minnesotans are more concerned about the economy and jobs than any other issue.
"In Minnesota we have almost a one-dimensional voter," he said. "It's the economy, the economy, and the economy."
Jacobs said hot button issues that often drive campaigns are barely registering this cycle.
"Issues the used to be pretty prominent in debates here including immigration, gay marriage and abortion have almost completely fallen off the agenda," he said. "Candidates aren't talking about them a whole lot, they might say something and then move pretty quickly and talk about the economic issues which voters want to hear about."
The poll did find that 49 percent of likely Minnesota voters oppose same sex marriage.
It also found that 52 percent support an Arizona's immigration law that requires police to check the immigration status of people they suspect are not legally in the United States.
Closer to home, the poll found that just a little more than one in four Minnesotans, 27 percent, approve of the state legislature's performance. But for some reason, Minnesotans don't seem poised to punish Democrats who control the state House and Senate.
When asked whether they would support an unnamed Democrat or Republican for state legislature, 48 percent said they would vote for the Democrat, 37 percent said they would vote for the Republican.