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Poll: Kelly holds slight lead over Benanav
By William Wilcoxen
Minnesota Public Radio
November 2, 2001

A new poll by Minnesota Public Radio and the St. Paul Pioneer Press shows Randy Kelly with a narrow lead over Jay Benanav in the St. Paul mayor's race. But while Kelly enjoyed a six-point advantage with people polled earlier this week, 16 percent remained undecided.

See complete poll results.

Forty-five percent of the voters contacted said they would vote for state Sen. Randy Kelly in the mayor's race. Thirty-nine percent favored City Council member Jay Benanav, and sixteen percent were undecided.

To political analysts like DFL commentator Bob Meek, the poll shows that Kelly is doing well, but the race is too close to call. "These numbers are close enough that Benanav easily could still win in a race like this. But it's a nice edge for Kelly, nevertheless," according to Meek.

Mason Dixon Polling contacted 403 likely voters Monday and Tuesday. The poll's margin of error is plus or minus five percentage points.

Both candidates were upbeat about the results. Benanav has the DFL endorsement, but trails in fundraising. He is encouraged by the closeness of the race. "It's still a toss-up, which is what we were predicting all along. So, it's exactly where it has to be right now - where we thought it would be. It's a toss-up and it's going to be determined in the last four or five days of the campaign," said Benanav.

Kelly is pleased by the numbers and says they show his professed goal of continuing the work of outgoing Mayor Norm Coleman resonates with the citizens. "Most of the people like what's happening in St. Paul. They want to see St. Paul keep moving forward. That's our message. We think the more that we get our message out, the more that we will be able to win this election next Tuesday," said Kelly.

A related poll question seems to validate Kelly's strategy of tying his campaign to Coleman's record. When asked to rate Coleman's performance as mayor, 75 percent called it excellent or good; 24 percent said Coleman has been fair or poor.

Poll respondent Helen Hiltunen says she's supporting Kelly largely because she associates him with the current mayor. "He has promised to follow Mayor Coleman's footsteps and he is endorsed by Mayor Coleman. And I think Coleman has done a very good job in St. Paul," Hiltunen said.

Feelings about Coleman are also a factor for some of those who plan to vote against Kelly. Poll respondent Richard Heille is concerned about the future of organized labor in St. Paul and is backing Benanav. "He's looking after the working man - the working person. That's why I'm voting for him. The last mayor, he's not a union man. He fought us all the way. He's only for big companies," Heille said. As for the undecideds, Benanav says he plans to win them over in the next few days with intense campaigning.

Kelly has complained this week that radio ads and mailings sponsored by Benanav supporters make false claims and distort Kelly's positions on privatization of city services and the prospect of a baseball stadium in Saint Paul. Kelly has asked Benanav to denounce the ads, but Benanav has refused, insisting the ads are factual.

Meanwhile, one of the undecided poll respondents, William Ray, expects that he'll vote for the school board candidates but leave his mayor's ballot blank because he doesn't want to vote for either candidate. "Neither one of them seem to satisfy me. They nit-pick at each other and not over anything that counts. And I just don't trust either one of them, that's the whole thing," he said. Predictions of voter turnout vary, as analysts try to guess what effect Sept. 11 and the war on terrorism will have on a local election. Some think turnout may be higher because more citizens may see casting a ballot as an act of patriotism.