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Poll: Dayton Catches Grams
By Michael Khoo
September 27, 2000
Part of MPR's Coverage of Campaign 2000
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A new poll shows DFL Senate candidate Mark Dayton with a narrow lead over incumbent Republican Rod Grams. Independence Party candidate James Gibson finished a distant third. The survey, commissioned by Minnesota Public Radio, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and KARE-11 TV, is the first post-primary look at how the Senate race is shaping up.

MARK DAYTON BEGAN BUILDING STEAM during the final weeks of a tight DFL primary; his momentum propelled him through that contest and has carried him to 46 percent in the survey, just ahead of Rod Grams' 41 percent. The poll has a margin of error of plus- or minus-four percentage points. "Dayton can afford to act like the incumbent because he is ahead and he has superior resources," says Carleton College political scientist Steven Schier. He says Dayton's strong showing has led to a reversal of roles, with Grams now playing the underdog.

The pool of 627 likely Minnesota voters picked Dayton as the better candidate on a half-dozen issues from education to health care. Grams came out on top in only one instance - fiscal policy - and even then, within the margin of error.

"If I'm reasonably close on that issue, I think that's probably to my benefit," says Dayton. "If I'm favored by others on other issues, I think that speaks to the fact that I've been able to outline my views and my positions on those issues throughout the course of the campaign so far."

Dayton's campaign has stressed issues important to senior citizens, including Social Security and prescription drug prices. Grams has targeted his Social Security message to young voters.

Grams supporters say they're counting on more voters to swing the race back to their candidate. Spokesman Kurt Zellers says he's not surprised to see Grams down at the moment, especially after a high-profile DFL primary that targeted the incumbent.

"In the primary at least, this a campaign against Senator Grams. All the DFL primary opponents were running against the senator. It shows it's a hollow message. Our campaign is on the rise. Mark Dayton has flat-lined," says Zellers.

Polling a distant third is Independence Party candidate James Gibson, who captured only four percent. Several poll respondents say they personally find Gibson's middle of the road candidacy best represents their views, but they say voting for a third-party candidate would be a waste.

Gibson campaign manager Neil Levine says that mindset is self-defeating. "You're not going to have real change if you consistently vote for the lesser of two evils even if you feel that the third-party candidate's a stronger candidate," says Levine.

Levine says the poll is unreliable because it overlooks disaffected Minnesotans who don't vote regularly, the same demographic that elected Gov. Ventura. Gibson must capture at least five percent of the vote to retain major-party status for the Independence Party. Constitution Party candidate David Swan is also struggling to keep major party status. The poll puts Swan at less than one percent.