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Wellstone, Coleman race remains tight, poll says
By Mark Zdechlik
Minnesota Public Radio
September 18, 2002


A new Minnesota Public Radio-St. Paul Pioneer Press poll indicates the U.S. Senate race remains very tight. Despite millions of dollars in campaign spending, DFL Sen. Paul Wellstone and Republican challenger Norm Coleman are locked in a statistical dead heat.

See complete poll results.

Mason Dixon interviewed 625 registered voters from across Minnesota between Sept. 12 and 14. With a margin of error of four percent, the poll found 47 percent of Minnesota voters plan to vote for DFL incumbent Sen. Paul Wellstone. Forty-four percent are supporting Republican Norm Coleman. Independence Party candidate Jim Moore and Ray Tricomo from the Green Party each garnered just two percent support. Five percent of those surveyed said they haven't decided who to vote for in Minnesota's Senate race.

The split between Wellstone and Coleman matches previous polls, which for months have shown the Democratic incumbent and Republican challenger statistically neck and neck.

Gustavus Adolphus College political scientist professor Chris Gilbert says it's remarkable so many Minnesotans apparently made up their minds so relatively early about the Senate race.

"This is a rare case, I think, where the two politicians, at least the general outlines of them, are well known enough that people already feel like they have enough information to make up their minds and if that's the case, there just isn't going to be a whole lot of movement," according to Gilbert.

The poll also found, more than anything else, respondents are concerned about candidates' character and experience. Taxes and spending ranked second, education third, jobs and the economy came in fourth.

Janice Fallon of Minnetonka, who was one of those polled, calls Wellstone one of the best politicians she's ever heard of and she thinks this is a very important Senate race because she wants Democrats to retain control of the U.S. Senate.

"He's a liberal Democrat, which is what I am too, so I think he has a real feeling for people. I think he wants to help people as much as he can," she said.

Just as much as Fallen wants to see Democrats remain in the majority in the Senate, Steven Poole, who lives in Buffalo and who was also questioned for the poll, wants Republicans in charge. Poole is supporting Coleman for altogether different ideological reasons than Fallon.

"I would like to see them continue to curb spending and taxing. I would love to see them do some privatization on Social Security," he said.

"I think you will see a lot of targeted appeals, the key of course is that the targeted appeal to the undecided sets do not serve also to alienate those who already believe they want the candidate."

- Chris Gilbert

Fresh from a speech to a group of financial advisors in Brooklyn Center, Coleman welcomed the news of the latest poll. For weeks Coleman has been downplaying expectations about polls, complaining that pro-Wellstone television ads, particularly during August, were overshadowing the Coleman campaign message.

"I thought we were way behind," said Coleman. "I thought that money would make the difference, but clearly it hasn't. There are folks still out there despite all the money in these 12 years that are still not ready to vote for him. So it says we've got a very good shot. I still have to work hard and let people know what I've done and what I can do for them and if I do that, we can win this race."

Wellstone's campaign manager Jeff Blodgett says he's not surprised that the race remains a dead heat. Blodgett says the fate of the race could very likely be determined by the dedication of the candidate's supporters.

"Ultimately, if this race stays close, it comes down to whose voters are more motivated and which campaign can get their voters out to the polls and that's what we, of course, are known for. It's what we know how to do. It's what Paul Wellstone knows how to do and that's how Paul Wellstone intends to win this race," according to Blodgett.

In addition to galvanizing their respective bases, Chris Gilbert from Gustavus Adolphus says the Coleman and Wellstone campaigns will be working to lure those voters who've yet to make up their minds.

"I think you will see a lot of targeted appeals, the key of course is that the targeted appeal to the undecided sets do not serve also to alienate those who already believe they want the candidate. You've got to keep people who want you in the fold, and you have to find specific ways to reach out," Gilbert said.

And Gilbert says in a Senate race that's going to cost well over $20 million, financing sophisticated efforts to bring in undecided voters will not be a problem.

More from MPR
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