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Poll: Franken popular with DFLers, but many undecided

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Ciresi and Franken
MPR Photo Illustration: DFL U.S. Senate candidates Mike Ciresi and Al Franken.
MPR File Photos

The poll in no way predicts what will happen at the Feb. 5 caucuses.

But it does indicate that if the election were held right now, Sen. Norm Coleman and Al Franken would be in a statistical dead heat. 

It shows Coleman beating DFLer Mike Ciresi by five points.  And it gives Coleman double digit leads over  the two lesser known DFL contenders; Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer and Jim Cohen who dropped out of the race Friday.

"We were very surprised by how far ahead Al Franken is of Mike Ciresi and the rest of the campaign," said University of Minnesota  Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs Professor Lawrence Jacobs, who directed the poll. 

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He said it shows right now Franken has a dominant lead over the other Democrats.

"He's doing very well on a number of different fronts," Jacobs said. "When Democrats in Minnesota think about the economy and jobs and they think about Iraq, they're tending to move towards Franken. When they think about the state and the direction the country is moving in they're concerned that it's off on the wrong track. They're thinking that Franken is the guy who can address that and by significant margins."

Pollsters interviewed  917 Minnesota residents over a one week period ending last Sunday. 

Jacobs said more than one third rated the economy and jobs as the nation's most important problem, followed distantly by Iraq and health care. More respondents gave Franken the advantage over Coleman on all three issues.  

Nearly three quarters of the respondents  believe the nation is headed in the wrong direction.  And a majority who feel that way support Franken. 

Kyle Steffen, 21, of Cottage Grove took part in the survey.  He likes Republican John McCain for president.  But for Senator, he's leaning toward Franken. 

"I just think Franken's more of a  regular guy," he said. "He's not a lawyer or a politician. Personally I really don't care for politicians or lawyers or anybody like that. I like somebody's that kind of  down to earth, more like Al."

Like many of the poll respondents, Steffen rated the economy among his top concerns. 

Kristine Kautzman of St. Paul did too. She said paying bills is a constant struggle, especially health insurance. 

"I've changed insurance companies twice, and I am not to the point where in order to have a monthly premium I can afford I  have a $2,000 deductible, she said. "Health insurance is a huge issue and for me that falls under the economy."

Kautzman identified herself as a Democrat and said she doesn't know who to support in the DFL Senate contest.  She's not alone. According to the poll, while Franken has strong support,  35 percent  of Minnesota DFLers are undecided.  

Lawrence Jacobs said that's significant. 

"There is clearly a lot of give there," he said. "Franken is in a very good position according to this poll, but it's certainly not a  campaign that I would say is in the bag for any one candidate."

As for Republican incumbent Norm  Coleman, his approval rating came in at  50 percent.  Jacobs said that's not  particularly bad for Coleman, considering he hasn't spent much time campaigning.

"You've got the Democrats who's been campaigning for some time now for the U.S. Senate seat," he said.  "Norm Coleman's campaign has not begun in ernest. He's got quite a  treasury. I'm  sure the media ads will start rolling at some point in the not too distant future."

Poll respondent Curtis Olson of Clarissa in central Minnesota said he's behind Coleman.

"I think in greater Minnesota there's a lot of support for  him," he said. "Because I think some of the other candidates like Al Franken, I don't think he really represents a lot of Minnesotans. He's pretty liberal. I think he represents Hollywood  more than he does Minnesota."

Although Coleman's 50 percent approval rating represents an improvement from other polls taken last summer, he trails Minnesota's relatively new DFL Senator on the question.  66 percent of those polled gave Amy Klobuchar favorable marks.