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Poll Shows Grams Vulnerable
By Eric Jansen
July 16, 1999
Click for audio RealAudio 3.0 | See the complete poll results

A new poll indicates Republican U.S. Senator Rod Grams will have a tough battle getting re-elected next year. The Minnesota Public Radio - KARE-TV - St. Paul Pioneer Press poll found Grams fails to get a majority of voter preference against any potential Democratic challenger.

See complete poll results.
THE POLLSTER CALLS GRAMS "vulnerable", because he fails to gain more than 50 percent of voters' preference against any Democrat. In its analysis, Mason-Dixon Polling and Research says Grams hasn't used his position in the Senate to improve his standing with Minnesota voters, And after five years in office, has the same mixed popularity rating as just before his election in 1994.

Voters swept Grams into office in that year's "Republican landslide" on the strength of Newt Gingrich's "Contract with America."

The telephone poll of 624 registered voters found 38% have a favorable opinion of Grams, while one-third have an unfavorable view. When respondents were asked whom they would vote for if the election were now, between Grams, Reform Party candidate James Gibson, and a specific DFLer, Grams' highest showing was 46% when the Democrat named was Steve Miles, a University of Minnesota professor with the lowest name recognition among potential DFL candidates.

Grams' political consultant, Dave Carney, says he's pleased with the numbers, which are consistent with poll results earlier this year.
Carey: The reason why we're pleased with these numbers, even though the conventional Washington beltway thinking of an analyst is that you need to get over 50 percent, it's a three-way race. We don't need 50%.
State DFL Party Chair Mike Erlandson says that attitude borders on defeatist for an incumbent.
Erlandson: It's like saying, "I'm banking on a third party candidate taking a certain percentage of the vote from my other opponents, whether that be the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party or another party." I think that is a clever answer from the Republican consultant for the Senator, but I think it's an answer that in my - from someone who's been in this business two decades would say they're a little bit concerned. Anytime you can't get 50 percent plus one you're concerned about re-election.
Nearly 30% of women are undecided about next year's Senate race The pollster considered that likely to help Democrats. Education, health care, abortion rights and social services are issues on which pollsters said women are more likely to line up with a Democrat than with Grams.

Poll participant Kay Gerger is one of those undecided women. She says she doesn't know the candidates well enough yet, but if the election were held today, she'd probably vote DFL.
Gerger: I was raised in a Democratic home and so there's always that tradition behind me. I also feel that, just in past history, Democratic candidates have generally been more concerned with the labor class or with the farmers.
But Grams consultant Carney says undecided women could just as easily vote for Grams. He cited Grams "economic populism", especially a $500 per child tax Credit, as something that helps women and their families.

Carney says Democrats are smug to think they're a threat to Grams, especially after watching Jesse Ventura win the Governor's mansion and losing the Minnesota House last November and two special state Senate elections this year.
Carney: I mean, their candidate got some 32% in the race for governor last time. They got crushed. They've lost two Senate seats in the last four months. The Democratic Party's not even the second party in the state any more. It's really the Reform Party. They have more chance of being competitive against Rod than the Democrat Party.
Candidate Information
James Gibson
Rod Grams
David Lillehaug
Stephen Miles
David Minge
The poll could shake loose, some Democrats who've been reluctant to get into the race. Former DFL Congressman Tim Penny, who's been wooed by both the DFL and Reform parties to run against Grams, says a Reform Party victory is plausible, especially after Ventura's election.
Penny: It won't be easy for the Reform Party to come up with a candidate with Ventura's name ID and appeal, but I think it is reasonable to assume that a decent Reform Party candidate will do better than five percent, and maybe much better, depending on the mood of the electorate next year.
The poll put Penny in a virtual dead heat against Grams, showing Grams with 41% of the vote against 40 percent for Penny, 3 percent for the Reform Party's Jim Gibson and 16 percent undecided. Penny says he's not really interested in running, but has left the door open a crack.

Reform Party strategist Dean Barkley, who unsuccessfully ran against Grams in 1994, says the party can come up with a higher-profile candidate than Gibson, currently the only Reform Party candidate to announce. Barkley says Penny is his favorite, but others could do the trick.
Barkley: I don't think they'd have as easy of a job of it as Tim, he'd be right in it from day one, but that doesn't mean we couldn't find a candidate that could get to that point to make this a very competitive race.
Barkley says with Grams to the far right and most DFL contenders for his seat to the left, there's a huge hole up the middle ripe for the Reform Party.