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Despite declining popularity, Coleman comfortable in Senate re-election bid

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Sen. Norm Coleman
In January 2004, Coleman enjoyed a 52 percent "good" or "excellent" job-performance rating. Voters favorable opinions of Coleman have also slipped over the past three years.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

Fewer than half of the people interviewed in the MPR polls last week -- 48 percent -- said they think Norm Coleman is doing a "good" or "excellent" job as Minnesota's U.S. senator. Additionally just 43 percent of the respondents had a favorable opinion of Coleman a quarter of have an unfavorable opinion.

Moorhead State University political science professor Barbara Headrick says the numbers confirm what Democrats and political analysts have been claiming: Coleman is vunerable going into his campaign for a second term in the Senate.

"Any incumbent who's below 50 percent should see himself or herself as in trouble," according to Headrick.

In January 2004, Coleman enjoyed a 52 percent "good" or "excellent" job-performance rating. Voters' favorable opinions of Coleman have also slipped over the past three years.

Mason Dixon Polling and Research conducted the latest poll. They interviewed 625 registered voters last week. Their results have a 4 percentage point margin of error.

Brad Coker, who directs Mason-Dixon, says Coleman's drop may have more to do with national politics than with Coleman himself.

"I suspect that has a lot to do with the fact that Republicans have fallen out of favor nationally across the board over the last couple of years due to the Bush administration's problems in Iraq and elsewhere," Coker said.

Following a speech at the University of Minnesota on Monday, Sen. Coleman talked about the new poll and didn't dispute the numbers.

"It's a tough political environment," he said. "I'm just going to concentrate on doing my job. You know, one month that number is at 53 percent, then at 48, so I really don't worry about the numbers and what I worry about is whether I am getting things done for Minnesotans and I hope they see that."

While Coleman says he doesn't worry too much about poll numbers, he liked questions in the MPR poll about how he would fair in head-to-head match-ups against Mike Ciresi or Al Franken if the election were held today.

Ciresi and Franken are the two Democrats hoping to run against Coleman next fall.

According to the poll, Coleman would beat either by a comfortable margin.

Matched up again Franken, Coleman would win 54 to 32 percent. Against Ciresi, he would win 52 to 29 percent.

While Coleman is struggling with popularity, his negative ratings are well below those of Al Franken. According to the poll, nearly 8 of 10 Minnesotans know who Franken is and, of them, nearly a third have an unfavorable opinion of him.

"I think Al Franken starts out with baggage," said University of Minnesota political scientist Lawrence Jacobs. "There's no doubt that his past career as a comedian is dogging him a bit."

Mike Ciresi's problem might be that more than a third of Minnesotans don't know who he is. Political observers say it's easier to bolster a profile than it is to turn around an unfavorable opinion.

Regarding Coleman, Jacobs says broad displeasure with Republicans is clearly hurting Minnesota's senior senator and Jacobs says it will be interesting to watch how Coleman handles that.

"A year ago there was a lot of excitement about the Republican National Convention coming to St. Paul. And lots of folks saw this as a boon for Sen. Coleman -- having the convention in his home state, his home city -- and yet we may well see that convention as a real problem for him because clearly the Republican Party's name brand has been tarnished," Jacobs said.

MPR pollsters also asked about voter perceptions of DFL Sen. Amy Klobuchar. Klobuchar, who took office earlier this year, won "good" or "excellent" marks from 56 percent of the respondents. And the 9 percent who said Klobuchar is doing a "poor" job, is half of the 18 percent who gave Coleman a "poor" job performance rating.