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MPR Poll: Presidential race is a close one
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President George Bush is hoping to swing Minnesota over into the Republican column in his November re-election campaign. The latest MPR poll shows the race between him and Democrat John Kerry is very close. (MPR file photo)
A new Minnesota Public Radio-Pioneer Press poll shows the presidential race is extremely close in Minnesota. The poll shows Democrat John Kerry with a slight lead over Republican incumbent George W. Bush, although that lead is within the poll's margin of sampling error. The poll also shows President Bush's approval ratings have steadily dropped over the past year.

St. Paul, Minn. — The poll of 625 registered Minnesota voters conducted last week found if the election were held now, 44 percent would vote for Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, 41 percent for President George W. Bush and 2 percent for independent Ralph Nader. Another 13 percent are undecided.

The poll's margin of sampling error is plus or minus four percentage points, so the Kerry-Bush race is essentially a dead heat. If Nader were out of the picture, Kerry gains a point.

Poll respondent Mila Trout of Osseo says she'll vote for Kerry. Trout, 46, works in retail. She says she doesn't like President Bush's economic policies or his decision to go to war in Iraq.

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Image Campaigning in St. Paul

"I don't think he takes into consideration the middle-class group, just like single parents and stuff that are out there trying to struggle and make ends meet," says Trout. "And with the war, I just feel that it's going to be a continual thing -- that we're in something that we're not going to be able to get out of."

Bush lost Minnesota by less than 3 percentage points in 2000, and both Bush and Kerry are targeting the state this year. The poll found 44 percent think President Bush is doing a good or excellent job. That's down from 53 percent in the last MPR-Pioneer Press poll in January, and a decline from Bush's 61 percent approval rating in April 2003.

Brad Coker is managing director for Mason-Dixon Polling and Research, the firm that conducted the poll. Coker says the president's approval ratings have dropped steadily since the war with Iraq.

"When we were at war, people rallied around Bush. But the aftermath in Iraq has been protracted and unstable, and that certainly has taken its toll. And the economic recovery -- while it's there, people haven't really started to feel it yet or have a lot of confidence in it," says Coker. "Certainly $2 a gallon gas prices don't help build some of the economic confidence that I think he was looking for by this point."

This poll shows that the president is in the hunt for Minnesota. And I think the White House will be gratified that after all the bad news they've had over the last two or three months, Minnesota is still in play.
- Political scientist Larry Jacobs

Some of the Bush supporters polled say while the last year has been rocky for the president, they support the general direction the Bush administration is taking. Jeff Schroeder, 44, owns a marina in Pipestone. He says he voted for Bush in 2000, and he'll vote for him again.

"I think that he's been challenged, and I think he's kind of risen to the occasion on most of the issues," says Schroeder. When asked about particular issues, he mentions the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

"I think he did the right thing there. I mean it was kind of a hard situation, but I think he handled it the right way. And the economy. I kind of look at it, the economy was going down before he actually took office," says Schroeder.

The poll asked Minnesotans which candidate would do a better job of handling the economy. Kerry was chosen by 41 percent, followed closely by 38 percent who chose Bush.

On the issue of homeland security, Bush had a commanding lead. Nearly half of those polled thought the president would do a better job of handling issues relating to homeland security and terrorism, compared to 32 percent who thought Kerry would do a better job.

Bush was also ahead when it came to handling the situation in Iraq -- 44 percent thought he would do a better job, compared to 37 percent for Kerry.

University of Minnesota political science professor Larry Jacobs says the poll shows President Bush has a chance of being the first Republican presidential candidate to carry the state in more than three decades.

"Oh, there's no doubt that this poll shows that the president is in the hunt for Minnesota," says Jacobs. "And I think the White House will be gratified that after all the bad news they've had over the last two or three months, Minnesota is still in play."

Jacobs says the next five months of the presidential campaign will be focused on the relatively small percentage of the population -- 13 percent in this poll -- who are still undecided.

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