A new poll suggests Minnesota will elect a woman to Congress for the first time in more than 40 years. The survey, commissioned by Minnesota Public Radio, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and KARE-11 TV, shows DFLer Betty McCollum leading Republican Linda Runbeck in the Fourth District race. Independence Party candidate Tom Foley is following in third place.
NOT SINCE COYA KNUTSON represented northwestern Minnesota in the late 1950s has Minnesota sent a woman to the U.S. Congress. But that's likely to change this year; the latest poll shows DFL State Rep. Betty McCollum leading Republican State Sen. Linda Runbeck 41 percent to 29 percent. The margin of error is plus- or minus-five percentage points.
McCollum says those numbers match her own internal polling.
"I'm continuing to peak," she says. "The phones are ringing, people are still calling in for lawn signs. We've been out for a couple of days. We have volunteers coming in now without calling first, they're just coming in and wanting to help work."
The Fourth District seat, comprising St. Paul and its nearest suburbs, was unexpectedly thrown into play last winter when former Cong. Bruce Vento announced he was stepping down to fight a rare form of lung cancer. Vento died last month. But his legacy, and the DFL's domination of the district for the last half of the 20th century, seem to be helping McCollum.
McCollum outscores her competitors on voters' approval ratings, and Runbeck says that because of a barrage of advertising funded by McCollum's campaign, the state DFL party, and outside interest groups. Runbeck says she'll step up her own advertising in the final days before next Tuesday's vote, which she says are a a crucial part of the election cycle.
"I've got a third of my media budget focused on just this week alone," she says. "Now is when you want to be on the air. And I believe that our timing is better. And people are going to be paying attention this week."
Runbeck says she thinks the Fourth District, with its expanding suburbs, is ready for a Republican.
Independence Party candidate Tom Foley finishes the field at 16 percent. Some strategists believed Foley, a former Democrat, would split the DFL vote with McCollum, allowing Runbeck to sneak up the middle. But Foley polls better among self-described conservatives, and draws equally from supporters of the two presidential candidates - Al Gore and George W. Bush. Foley says the poll limits itself to likely voters when it's the unlikely voters who turned out for Gov. Jesse Ventura two years ago.
"They really don't look at the independent voters and the people that don't affiliate with either party or normally don't turn out and vote," says Foley.
Foley also criticized the role of money in the campaign, saying he hasn't had the benefit of special interest money to saturate the airwaves with TV ads. Nonetheless, the poll show Foley, a former Ramsey County attorney, with the highest name recognition.