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Conflicting polls add to election confusion
Two new polls show Minnesota's U.S. Senate race as a virtual toss up, just days before the election. A poll for Minnesota Public Radio and the St. Paul Pioneer Press shows Republican Norm Coleman with a slight lead over Democrat Walter Mondale, while a separate poll conducted by the Minneapolis Star Tribune shows Mondale with a slight lead over Coleman. The two polls also show Republican Tim Pawlenty and DFLer Roger Moe in a statistical dead heat in the race for governor.

St. Paul, Minn. — The MPR-Pioneer Press poll of 625 registered voters showed Coleman leading Mondale 47 percent to 41 percent (See complete poll results). The margin of sampling error is plus or minus four percentage points.

The Star Tribune Minnesota poll of 929 likely voters showed Mondale leading Coleman 46 percent to 41 percent, with a margin of error of 3.2 percentage points. Both polls were conducted Wednesday through Friday, just as Mondale was officially entering the race and right after the memorial service for the late Sen. Paul Wellstone.

The chair of the political science department at the College of St. Catherine, Lily Goren, says Coleman appears to have gotten a boost from a change in the campaign's tone following Wellstone's death.

"Coleman really has had the opportunity in the last week and a half to define himself in a much more positive light than he had been doing. Because he had been really on the attack. And also, I think that Mondale hasn't had the opportunity particularly to define himself as a candidate for the Senate," according to Goren.

Goren says many voters are unsure about Mondale's positions on the issues, since they view him as an elder statesman. The former vice president hasn't served in the Senate since 1976. Mondale is in the midst of an intense five-day campaign to reaquaint himself with voters.

"In this race, there's a clear choice," says Tina Smith, Mondale's campaign manager. "I think that people are going to be voting based on experience and integrity and values, and who they trust to fight for, you know, fight for those for Minnesota families."

Coleman, the former mayor of St. Paul, has been portraying the race as a choice between the past and the future.

"I'm running as if I'm 10 points behind in whatever poll there is, and in the end I think that will serve us well, because folks are looking for someone who's going to work hard and who has that vision for the future, and if I continue to project that and to let people see that, it's in my heart, I think I got a good shot," he said Saturday.

The other two major party candidates in the race - the Independence Party's Jim Moore and the Green Party's Ray Tricomo - got a combined two-percent support from respondents in the MPR-Pioneer Press poll.

Ten percent were undecided. The Minnesota poll showed Moore with two percent, Tricomo with two percent, and 9 percent undecided.

Political scientist Goren says that small slice of the electorate, the undecideds, will likely determine the outcome.

"The race was going to be decided by the people who were undecided anyhow, when it was Wellstone and Coleman. It's still a question of the undecided voters," Goren says.

Goren says undecided voters will be key in the governor's race as well. The MPR-Pioneer Press poll showed 36 percent of voters polled support Republican Tim Pawlenty, and 32 percent back DFLer Roger Moe. With a four-percent margin of sampling error, that's a dead heat.

The Independence Party's Tim Penny was a distant third, with 16-percent support, and Green Party candidate Ken Pentel was favored by two percent of respondents.

The Star Tribune poll had the same ranking of candidates, but slightly different percentages. Pawlenty was at 35 percent, Moe at 32 percent, Penny at 16 percent and Pentel at 3 percent.

Pawlenty called the polls "great news," and said they show that his message is getting out to voters.

"Our message of not raising taxes, having a focus on accountability in state government, making it live within its means, having a focus on school improvement and accountability and accountability across state government to get more value and results is a good message for these times. These are troubled, difficult times," he said.

DFLer Moe says the polls confirm that the governor's race is a two-man competition between him and Pawlenty. He's telling Penny and Pentel supporters to consider switching their votes to him.

"It's a race between myself and the Republicans, and so I would hope that those who are looking at the Green Party or Independence Party, I would hope that they would understand that I'm a very viable option for them. I would hope that they might seriously consider that," Moe said.

Penny's campaign manager took issue with Penny's third-place showing, and said the numbers were wrong. Jack Uldrich says the polls underrepresent political independents. He says a St. Cloud State University poll released this week shows the race a dead heat between Pawlenty, Moe and Penny.

"Every sign that we feel out there, and again, we don't do polling, tells us we're doing extremely well, so I know a lot of people are going to be shocked on Nov. 5," he said.

Lagging far behind the other three candidates, the Green Party's Pentel says he doesn't understand why he seems to be stuck in single digits. But he points out that this is the first campaign since the Green Party became a major party in Minnesota.

"I am not Ralph Nader, that's for sure. I am a person that a lot of people haven't known or don't know about, so they're building a relationship with myself, the candidate, but also they're building a relationship with a new emerging party in Minnesota. So in that respect, it takes time," Pentel said.

Pentel says he's urging voters to help him get at least five percent of the vote, so that the Green Party can keep its major-party status. All of the candidates will spend the next 48 hours in a frantic race to get their supporters to the polls on Tuesday.

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