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New poll shows Obama, Coleman have big leads in Minnesota

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Franken and Coleman
U.S. Senate candidates Al Franken, DFLer, and Republican incumbent Norm Coleman. A new poll shows Coleman has a 10-point lead over Franken.
MPR File Photo

The poll conducted by Quinnipiac University shows that Minnesota's voters are clearly showing their independence.

More than half of the independents polled are backing Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee for President, and Norm Coleman, the Republican Senator running for re-election.  

Quinnipiac's Clay Richards said those polling numbers show that Minnesota voters are engaged in this election.

"Obviously if they're smart enough to split their ticket in the race, Minnesota voters are smart enough to know what's going on," he said.

The Quinnipiac poll was commissioned by the Wall Street Journal and the washingtonpost.com as  part of an effort to take the temperature in seven so-called battleground states.  

But Richards said neither the race for president nor the senate race are competitive in Minnesota right now.  

"Well certainly now you would have to say it's an Obama landslide state."

"Well certainly now you would have to say it's an Obama landslide state," he said about the presidential race. 

Fifty-four percent are backing Obama.  Thirty-seven percent are backing John McCain.  The poll of 15,72 likely Minnesota voters was taken between Tuesday of last week and  Tuesday of this week. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.  

Obama leads McCain in all seven states where Quinnipiac did the poll.  His margin is widest in Minnesota.  Second on the list is Wisconsin, which also has Obama with a double digit lead.  

Nick Kimball, the spokesman for Obama's Minnesota campaign, said the campaign isn't looking too closely at the numbers.

"We've seen a lot of numbers come out both in Minnesota and nationally, and it's been pretty inconsistent across the board," he said.  "We've seen things nationally that have been pretty close and we've seen things that have a little bit of a wider spread.  You take these early polls for what they're worth, which is not a whole lot.  We're just focused on building up our operation here in the state."

Ben Golnik, the regional manager for John McCain's campaign, also stressed that polling has been inconsistent in Minnesota.  He added that Obama may be seeing a spike in polling since he clinched the Democratic nomination earlier this month.  

"If anyone didn't think that Minnesota was going to be an uphill battle they were wrong," he said.  "We feel that it's going to be a tough battle, but we're encouraged with how things are working out here in Minnesota.  We reached out to a number of independent Democrats who are going to be joining the campaign."

One obstacle for the McCain campaign is that three quarters of those polled say they won't change their minds before Election Day.  

Even Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty as a possible vice-presidential candidate may make little difference for McCain in Minnesota.  Fifty-six percent of those polled say it won't matter if Pawlenty is McCain's VP pick.  Eighteen percent say they're more likely to vote for McCain.  Twenty-three percent say they're less likely to vote for McCain.  

Clay Richards, with Quinnipiac, said those who are less likely to vote for a McCain/Pawlenty ticket are split into two groups.  One group that doesn't like Pawlenty and another who likes him so much as governor that they don't want to see him leave the state.

While Republicans have reason to be pessimistic about their chances to put Minnesota in the GOP column for the first time since 1972, Richards said they can be optimistic about holding on to their Senate seat.  

Fifty-one percent of those polled support Coleman to Franken's 41 percent.  And he said Coleman is getting help from Democrats who don't like their endorsed candidate.

"If Al Franken wants to become a close contender in this race he has to win back more of his party votes first," he said.

Coleman has a 20 point advantage among the independent voters surveyed, but Franken's problem is with Democrats. Seventeen percent of the Democrats polled say they support Coleman.  

Luke Friedrich, with Coleman's campaign, said voters from both parties like his work in the Senate.

"I think it shows that Sen. Coleman is appealing to a wide base of Minnesotans including independents and even some Democrats," he said.  "I think in terms of our race, it shows that Sen. Coleman has been doing a good job and Minnesotans recognize that."

Over the past few months, Coleman's campaign has been stressing Coleman's ability to work across party lines through talking points and TV ads.  

At the same time, some Democrats like DFL Congresswoman Betty McCollum have criticized Franken's past writings and attempts at humor.  

Andy Barr, with Al Franken's campaign, said he expects the race to be competitive.

"We're confident that it's going to be a close race with a lot of ups and downs and a lot of polls and a lot of numbers, and frankly a lot of spin all the way to Election Day," he said.  "We're confident that we'll be on top on November 4th."

Quinnipiac plans to conduct three more polls in Minnesota between now and Election Day.