Democrats Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith are leading their Republican challengers in the race for the U.S. Senate, although Smith is in a much tighter contest in an unexpected special election, according to the latest MPR News/Star Tribune Minnesota Poll.
Smith leads Republican nominee Karin Housley 47 percent to 41 percent in the race for her seat in the Senate, according to the poll of 800 likely voters. That's a 1-percentage point gain for Housley since the last Minnesota Poll in September.
Of those polled, though, 10 percent said they are still undecided and 2 percent said they plan to vote for another candidate. That means the race could still swing either way on Nov. 6.
Sarah Wellington, the Legal Marijuana Now candidate, and Jerry Trooien, an independent candidate, were also included in the poll.
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Smith, the former lieutenant governor and Planned Parenthood executive, led with younger voters and women, as well as voters in Hennepin and Ramsey counties, the state's two most populous counties.
Shawnee Burnett, 63, a self-described independent voter who lives in Oak Park Heights, said she plans to vote for Smith. "I try to vote all of the time, but I do not pay any attention to Democrats or Republicans," she said.
She's frustrated with misleading ads, which she said makes it difficult to know what's really at stake in the November election. But she recently met Smith at her front door campaigning and thinks she aligns more with her views.
"It seems like she's very nice and she stands for good things," Burnett said.
Gov. Mark Dayton appointed Smith to the seat in January, after U.S. Sen. Al Franken unexpectedly resigned over allegations of sexual misconduct. State law required a special election for the seat to coincide with the next general election.
"We've been tracking the Smith-Housley race on our Poll Watch feature, and it is an interesting one," said Craig Helmstetter, managing partner of the APM Research Lab, a sister organization of MPR News that specializes in analysis of demographics and surveys.
Earlier this month, the respected NBC News/Marist Poll reported Smith ahead by 16 percentage points. The Minnesota Poll shows a tighter race, which may be due to different polling methodology or the deluge of political advertising the past two weeks, Helmstetter added.
Klobuchar leads her Republican opponent Jim Newberger 56 percent to 33 percent, according to the poll. Only 7 percent of voters are undecided in that race, with 4 percent planning to vote for another candidate.
That 23-point gap is significant, although it's smaller than the 30-point lead Klobuchar held over Newberger during the last round of polling in September.
Similar to the September poll, Klobuchar did better than Newberger among all age groups, in all regions of the state and with both men and women. Of those polled, 51 percent said they recognized Klobuchar's name and approve of her compared to Newberger's 11 percent.
Dennis Schuller, the Legal Marijuana Now candidate, and Paula Overby, the Green Party candidate, were also included in the poll.
The poll of likely voters for both Senate races was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy between Oct. 15 and Oct. 17. It has a sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, meaning that there is a 95 percent probability that the "true" figure would fall within that range if all voters were surveyed.
Jason Theisen, 40, of Milaca, Minn., said he'll probably vote for Klobuchar over Newberger. But in the Smith-Housley match up, he prefers Housley, a state senator and real estate agent from St. Mary's Point.
Of those polled, men, voters between the ages of 50 and 64 and those who live 20 minutes outside of the metro and in greater Minnesota were more likely to support Housley.
Theisen said he knows Housley's husband was a professional hockey star, and he likes her position on gun rights.
"I would probably lean to Housley. I'm a big Second Amendment guy. I do have concerns with the future of that and I feel like Karin Housley's going to be on my side on that issue," he said.
A strike against Housley, Theisen said, are comments she posted on Facebook nearly a decade ago comparing the then-first lady Michelle Obama's posture to a chimpanzee. He said he wishes there was more civility in politics.
"We're all in this thing together and it seems like every election seems to get a little more extreme to the point that we can't sit down and even have discussions anymore," he said. "That's scary."
One of the central issues in the race for both U.S. Senate seats is health care, and Minnesotans were more decisive on that question.
A majority of poll respondents — 52 percent — said they think it is the responsibility of the federal government to ensure all Americans have health care insurance.
Of those polled, 40 percent said it's not the government's responsibility, while 8 percent were unsure.
And an overwhelming 70 percent of respondents said they support proposals letting people buy in to public health insurance programs including Medicare and MinnesotaCare, which Democrats like Smith are pitching on the campaign trail.