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Wetterling the frontrunner in the 6th?

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Frontrunner?
A poll from the Star Tribune newspaper suggests Patty Wetterling is the frontrunner in the the race for the 6th Congressional District seat.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

     The poll of 506 likely voters in the district found 48 percent supported Patty Wetterling compared to 40 percent for Michele Bachmann. Support for Independence Party candidate John Binkowski was at four percent. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

     Wetterling says she's simply following her campaign plan. She says her message of hope and opportunity is resonating with voters.

"Nobody was paying any attention to this race really until the Foley scandal," she said. "It didn't change our behavior. It just drew some attention to what we were already doing."

     Previous polls in the 6h District have mostly showed Bachmann ahead, but the numbers also showed the race was tightening. Bachmann's campaign manager, Andy Parrish, downplayed the new poll.

"Every poll up until this point has showed us in the lead. We have our internal polling and we feel extremely comfortable and very satisfied with where we're at," according to Parrish. 

     The state Republican Party went further, criticizing the poll and its sample of likely voters. Party officials questioned how a conservative district that voted for President Bush in 2004 would now have poll sample that's only 30 percent Republican and 34 percent Democrat.            Political science professor Larry Jacobs of the University of Minnesota says the poll is one snapshot in time, and the results could change. But Jacobs says the Foley scandal has clearly had an impact on voter opinions and could affect Republican turnout. Under the current climate, he's not surprised by the Minnesota Poll's sample of likely voters.

"It makes a lot of sense, given everything else we're seeing that the poll is not going to be interviewing as many Republicans as you would normally expect," according to Jacobs. "The big issue we're seeing all over the country is Democrats are  red-hot mad and red-hot involved in this campaign, and that the  Republicans are a bit dispirited. They just don't have the fire in the belly they've had in the past.So, I would not dismiss the poll."

     The tight 6th District contest has been playing out in competing TV ads that have taken on an increasingly negative tone. Earlier ads from both sides focused on taxes. The latest Bachmann ad accuses Wetterling of being soft on terrorism.   "Even as threats from around the world continue to grow, Wetterling has again accepted an endorsement from a radical group that calls for deep cuts in our military. One of this group's leaders has even said we should negotiate with the Taliban," the ad says.

     Wetterling's campaign condemned the ad as factually wrong on several counts. Meanwhile, a new ad from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has the Bachmann camp up in arms.

"Who would vote against  a bill that would put repeat sex offenders behind bars for life? Michele Bachmann. Against a  bill that makes operating meth labs close to children a crime? Michele Bachmann. Against a bill letting police alert parents when dangerous out of state sex offenders move to their neighborhoods? Michele Bachmann," the ad says.   The Bachmann campaign's Andy Parrish says it's "ridiculous" for anyone to claim Michele Bachmann doesn't stand up for children.      

With just three weeks left in the campaign, the ads could get more negative in the 6th District. 

"Negative ads have a big impact in terms of turnout," Larry Jacobs says. "You can really dispirit your rivals supporters by running negative ads that really  tear someone down. And I think that's going to be a big part of the game these final three weeks."

     Allegations of political dirty tricks are also surfacing in the final weeks of the campaign. The latest volley from the Bachmann campaign accuses a Wetterling staffer of posing as Bachmann volunteer to try to gain inside information. Wetterling's campaign manager says he had no knowledge of the alleged activity, but the worker was fired.