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Grams Leads Senate Poll
by Michael Khoo
March 3, 2000
Part of MPR's Campaign 2000
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In the fight to unseat U.S. Senator Rod Grams, the DFL's strongest candidate isn't even a candidate. A poll commissioned by Minnesota Public Radio and the St. Paul Pioneer Press shows former Congressman Tim Penny would beat Grams if the election were held today. But earlier this week, Penny withdrew his name from the race, and the remaining field of DFLers have yet to prove themselves to voters.

DFLer TIM PENNY emerged as the clear favorite among the 641 respondents in the MPR - Pioneer Press poll. In a hypothetical match-up, Penny would best incumbent Rod Grams 50 percent to 33 percent. Reformer James Gibson came in at one percent with the remainder undecided. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.

Democratic Candidates for Senate
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Penny says he hadn't expected to fare quite that well. "I had a sense that I would probably be neck-and-neck with Grams," he said. "But I find this interesting, though also sort of irrelevant at this point."

Earlier this week Penny announced he would not enter the race to challenge Grams. Penny says he doesn't want the personal and family disruptions associated with a Senate campaign; he says he'll stick by that decision.

In match-ups with the remaining DFL field, Grams comes out on top in each case.

The closest hypothetical race has Grams topping Rebecca Yanisch 42-36 percent. His next-closest contender is Michael Ciresi who scores 35 percent to Grams' 43. Performing progressively worse are David Lillehaug, Steve Kelley, Steve Miles, and Jerry Janezich. But even virtual unknowns such as Dick Franson and Ole Savior grab roughly 25 percent against the incumbent. DFL state party chair Mike Erlandson says that means Grams is vulnerable.

"He's a weak, sitting incumbent U.S. Senator," Erlandson said. "Most people say he's the weakest one in the country. But nobody in the DFL side of things, including me as chair, takes this election as anything but a tough battle for not only the DFL nomination, but to beat Senator Grams."

Bringing up the rear in all cases is Gibson, the Reform Party candidate. Gibson fails to hit five percent in eight of out nine possible three-way races featuring himself, Grams, and one of the DFLers. If Gibson doesn't capture at least five percent in the November general election, the Reformers could lose major-party status during the next election cycle.