A new Minnesota Public Radio News-Humphrey Institute poll shows Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton with a significant and growing lead over Republican Tom Emmer.
A month ago, the poll showed Dayton and Emmer deadlocked at 34 percent each. But the latest survey shows Dayton with an 11 percentage point lead over Emmer -- 38 to 27 percent.
Independence Party candidate Tom Horner, who had 13 percent a month ago, now has 16 percent according to the new poll.
So what's changed?
"The big story in September is that the Democrats have woken up from their summer slumber," said University of Minnesota political science professor Larry Jacobs, who oversaw the poll.
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"When you go back to August, you find 57 percent of Democrats who are likely to vote saying that they had only a little or really no interest in voting come November," Jacobs said. "Now we found a substantial 83 percent of Democrats saying they have a great deal or a fair amount of interest in this election."
That 83 percent enthusiasm number for Democrats matches the Republicans', meaning the GOP has lost the edge in election excitement it had enjoyed over Democrats.
Pollsters questioned 750 likely Minnesota voters last Wednesday through Sunday. The poll has a conventional margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points. But using more conservative methods, Jacobs puts the margin at 5.1 percentage points.
The poll also shows more than one in five Republicans, or 22 percent, plan to vote for Horner instead of Emmer. That's more than double the 10 percent of Democrats who say they plan to vote for Horner rather than Dayton.
Jacobs said those numbers point to trouble for Emmer.
"Republicans are turning away from him," Jacobs said. "Tom Horner's campaign -- (which) is heavily pitched to Republicans, and arguing that Emmer is too conservative -- appears to be really hitting pay dirt."
Poll respondent Gary Klingel, who lives in the northern Minnesota town of Longville, said he supported Emmer. But Klingel, a Republican, is having second thoughts.
A former Pillsbury executive, Klingel said his business background leaves him thinking Horner has the most rational approach to addressing Minnesota's budget problems.
"I know that if I had financial troubles I wouldn't be doing one thing at a the exclusion of something else. I would be doing them all," Klingel said. "Would I be raising taxes? Yes, I would. Would I be cutting spending? Yes, I would. Would I be reducing the size of government? Yes, I would."
Like six out of 10 people who were polled, Klingel thinks Minnesota is on the wrong track.
"Of course it could be better," he said.
Of those who think Minnesota is on the wrong track, many more are supporting Dayton than are backing Emmer or Horner.
And likely voters who rate the economy and jobs as the most important problem facing the state are also siding with Dayton, by a margin of 37 percent to 25 pecent. Horner trails in support from those voters, with 18 percent.
Poll respondent Shirley Gadient of Rochester is solidly behind Dayton.
"He seems like a very honest person to me," Gadient said. "He tells it like it is."
The poll shows Dayton is in a much stronger position than he was a month ago. Still, with nearly one-fifth of likely voters undecided, Jacobs said, the election is wide open.
But the poll shows Emmer may have trouble attracting those who are still undecided.
Many more undecided voters rate either Dayton or Horner's political views as "about right," than they do Emmer's.
Jacobs said those undecided voters break decidedly for Dayton when it comes to questions about personal traits.
"So as you kind of look through these undecided voters and how they're sizing up and judging the candidates, it appears that Mark Dayton has an advantage for being seen as a bit more caring and also having the right temperament in comparison to Emmer and Horner," Jacobs said.
Until this week, post-primary polls on Minnesota's race for governor had been consistently showing Dayton and Emmer neck-and-neck. But both the Minnesota Public Radio-Humphrey Institute poll and a Star Tribune Minnesota Poll published Sunday show Dayton with a solid lead.