MPR poll: Coleman, Franken tied; many undecided

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The poll found 41 percent support Al Franken and 40 percent support Norm Coleman.

It's a survey of 763 likely Minnesota voters between Aug. 7 and 17. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.

"Coming into this poll, I was frankly assuming that Al Franken was in trouble," said University of Minnesota political scientist Lawrence Jacobs, who directed the poll.

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Dean Barkley
Dean Barkley is running for the Senate as an Independence Party candidate, and a new MPR poll shows most of his support comes at the expense of DFLer Al Franken.
MPR photo/Tom Weber

Jacobs said he was surprised by the results, given the fact that the Franken campaign has been playing defense to numerous GOP attacks and concerns among some DFL leaders.

"He's had such a lousy string of damaging news reports," Jacobs said. "You couldn't image a candidate going through a worse time. Frankly, if I was an oncologist and a patient presented this way, I would say you're in trouble, this could be fatal, and indeed it looked really bad for Franken. And yet when we got the results of this poll it shows that Franken and Coleman are deadlocked."

About three out of four poll respondents said the country is on the wrong track, and more than half of those voters said they were supporting Franken.

Nearly two-thirds expressed disapproval with President Bush, and among them Franken enjoys a nearly three-to-one lead.

Jacobs said if Independence Party candidate Dean Barkely weren't in the race, Franken would have even more support among those who are upset with the Bush administration and the direction the country is heading.

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Overall, 8 percent of those surveyed said they were supporting Barkley.

Jacobs said Barkley is clearly hurting Franken.

"Dean Barkley is doing real damage," he said. "These angry voters are peeling off and supporting Barkley. And probably Franken could be in the lead if he didn't have Barkley in the race. A big question is, how does Barkley do? If he continues to gather steam, it's very hard to see how Franken can win."

Jacobs said another factor that makes the race wide open is that 11 percent of those polled said they were undecided, or declined to say how they planned to vote.

The key to victory lies in landing those undecided voters, and much of the campaign advertising is aimed at luring them in.

Outside an east St. Paul grocery store, shoppers said they have been seeing the TV commercials. Almost everyone asked said they hadn't yet made up their mind about who to vote for, and most had something to say about the negative tone of the race.

"I think there's a lot of mudslinging going around, and you can't always know the truth. And I need to know more before I can make a good decision," said Sara Rogoski of Maplewood.

"There are some warning signs in here for the Franken campaign."

"The Senate race is too much of throwing trash at each other, I think," said Mike Sweeney of St. Paul.

Sweeney said he's not hearing much about several issues that are important to him.

"Important issues -- the economy, gas prices, the Iraq war, Afghanistan, Pakistan. The decision is going to be based on who has the best answers to those questions, I guess," Sweeney said.

Although the poll shows the race tied, Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report said a close look at the results shows Franken has many problems that jeopardize his prospects.

"When you ask voters who would do a better job on a variety of issues -- whether it be health care, the economy and jobs, ending the war in Iraq -- Franken does not have a discernable advantage on any of those issues," said Duffy. "What you're seeing is that nationally, voters think Democrats do, in fact, have answers and would do a better job on these issues."

In addition to not owning any of the major issues, Duffy said Franken should be concerned that almost half of Minnesotans think he's too liberal.

Finally, Duffy said Franken needs to do a better job of appealing to the DFL base. Just 71 percent of the Democrats surveyed said they were supporting Franken. That compares to 81 percent of Republicans who say they'll vote for Coleman.

Inside the DFL Party, Franken faces a primary challenge from several opponents, including attorney Priscilla Lord Faris who's been running TV ads. According to the poll, Franken has a more than 50-point lead among Democrats over Lord Faris.