Many voters unsure of attorney general race, candidates

Attorney general poll
According to the survey by Mason-Dixon Research, many people aren't familiar with who is running for attorney general, but many have made up their minds nonetheless.
MPR Graphic/Ben Tesch

The Mason-Dixon poll, conducted for Minnesota Public Radio and the St. Paul Pioneer Press, found 37 percent of the participating registered voters favored DFL candidate Lori Swanson for attorney general. That's 13 points better than Republican Jeff Johnson. His support was measured at 24 percent. Four percent picked Independence Party candidate John James. Papa John Kolstad of the Green Party had less than one percent. But the poll also found 35 percent hadn't yet made up their minds about the race.

This is the first political campaign for Swanson, who is the top prosecutor in the attorney general's office. Swanson is pleased with the poll, because she says it shows voters are responding to her campaign themes of health care, corporate accountability and public safety.

"I think the people of Minnesota want an attorney general who'll be on their side, who will really standup for the ordinary Minnesotan without a lot of power and a lot of influence when they've been given a bad deal," Swanson said. "That's what I believe in and what I've been talking about. So, the numbers are encouraging in that regard."

But Swanson also knows there's a lot of work yet to do to win over those undecided voters. Her Republican opponent, Jeff Johnson, is trying to do the same. Johnson, a state representative from Plymouth, says it's a wide-open contest.

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I think people make up their minds right at the end.

"I think people make up their minds right at the end," Johnson said. "We'll continue to work hard, continue to travel and get a message out about public safety and keeping kids safe. And also hopefully we'll have raised enough money to get on TV for the last couple weeks before election day."

Name recognition is a huge challenge for all three major party candidates. Swanson jumped into the attorney general race in July after Matt Entenza, the DFL-endorsed candidate, withdrew. She won a competitive, three-way primary for the party nomination. The campaign attracted a lot of media attention. Still, 49 percent of voters said they didn't recognize Swanson's name just a week after the primary. The poll found 56 percent didn't recognize Jeff Johnson and 72 percent didn't know the IP's John James.

That's a lot of voters for James to try to reach before election day. But the former state revenue commissioner remains optimistic.

"We've got a real opportunity to get the word out on my candidacy and frankly on all of the Independence Party candidates, Team Minnesota," James said. "We're really just starting to ramp up our marketing. So, I think there's a lot that's hopeful here."

For many voters, party affiliation is often enough to help them choose a candidate. Poll respondents were told the party of each candidate when asked who they support. Roxanne Brennan of Waterville, hasn't been following the attorney general campaign and didn't recognize the names of the candidates. But that didn't stop her from picking Lori Swanson.

"I am a registered Democrat," Brennan said. "And although I usually go by the candidates and what their opinion on the issues and and what their standing up for, in some of the cases when I'm uncertain I go by my party."

Party affiliation is also the key for Samantha Kingsbury of Rochester. She didn't know the Republican candidate for attorney general, but that's who she plans to vote for.

"I'm very pro-life and usually the Republicans represent pro-life very well," Kingsbury said.

Mason-Dixon Polling and Research conducted its telephone poll September 18-20. The survey included 625 registered voters. The poll's margin of error was plus- or minus-4 percentage points.