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MPR poll: Bush momentum builds over Kerry in Minnesota
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President Bush makes remarks during the Hispanic Heritage Month Concert and reception in the White House on Wednesday. The latest poll shows Bush moving ahead of John Kerry in Minnesota. (Photo by Matthew Cavanaugh/Getty Images)
As President Bush makes a three-city campaign swing through Minnesota, a new poll shows him with a narrow lead over Democrat John Kerry in the state. It's the first time Bush has led Kerry in the Minnesota Public Radio-St. Paul Pioneer Press poll. The slim two-point lead is within the poll's margin of sampling error, and pollsters say the race is still a toss-up.

St. Paul, Minn. — Forty-six percent of those polled earlier this week say if the election were held today, they'd vote for Republican George W. Bush. Forty-four percent say they'd vote for Democrat John Kerry, and 1 percent say they'd vote for independent Ralph Nader, who is also campaigning in the state on Thursday.

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Image Kerry campaigns in the Midwest

Nine percent are undecided. The poll's margin of sampling error is plus or minus four percentage points. Pollster Brad Coker of Mason-Dixon Polling and Research says the Kerry campaign should be nervous about the poll results.

"Minnesota is clearly still winnable for Kerry, but the fact that he's slightly behind here is not a good sign from a national perspective. If he's struggling in Minnesota, other battleground states, particularly states that went narrowly for Bush last time, are probably going to be more out of reach for him at the moment," according to Coker.

Coker says Bush has been gaining ground in the polls since the Democratic National Convention in July. But he says it's still early in the campaign, with six-and-a-half weeks remaining before the election.

The Kerry campaign's Minnesota communications director, Stacie Paxton, says she's not worried about the poll results. She says they show that the race is extremely close.

"Polls will go up and down through election day, but ultimately, Minnesota will go for John Kerry and John Edwards because George Bush has taken us in the wrong direction," according to Paxton.

The MPR-Pioneer Press poll indicates a much tighter race than the Star Tribune's Minnesota poll, which came out a day earlier. That poll showed Kerry with a 9-point lead over Bush.

State Republican Party officials have criticized the Star Tribune poll, saying it underrepresents Republican voters, a charge the Star Tribune has denied. The Bush campaign's Minnesota spokesman, Peter Hong, says the MPR-Pioneer Press poll mirrors what many other polls have shown, that Minnesota is a close race.

He (Kerry) seems to want to talk about the war 30 years ago, and bring up what they did 30 years ago, and I don't think that has much relevance on today.
- John Young of Eyota, poll respondent

Hong says he thinks Minnesotans are also responding to President Bush's campaign stops in the state.

"We are not taking any voter for granted. President Bush is taking his message to all parts of Minnesota, and reaching out to all Minnesotans about why he deserves four more years in re-election," Hong says.

More than half of the 625 registered voters polled think Bush would do a better job than Kerry of handling both the situation in Iraq and homeland security. Bush's numbers on homeland security are up since the Republican National Convention in New York, which focused heavily on the September 11 terrorist attacks.

And for the first time in this poll, slightly more Minnesotans think Bush would do a better job on economic issues than Kerry. Poll respondent John Young of Eyota in southeastern Minnesota says he didn't vote for Bush four years ago, but he recently decided to vote for Bush this year.

"I don't think Kerry has really done too much in the 20 years that he's been in Congress. He seems to want to talk about the war 30 years ago, and bring up what they did 30 years ago, and I don't think that has much relevance on today," he said.

Young and most other voters polled don't think the military records of either Bush or Kerry should be an important factor in the race. Young says he thinks Bush has done a pretty good job in office, considering the challenges of September 11 and the economic downturn.

Another poll respondent, Von Brandenburg of Blaine, says he doesn't think Bush deserves a second term. He says he's worried about U.S. jobs going overseas, and thinks Bush has undone all the economic gains of the Clinton administration. But Brandenberg admits he doesn't know enough about Kerry.

"The more that I look into him, yes, I'll probably end up voting for him. Probably about 80 percent sure. Part of the reason to vote for Kerry, a small part, is to make sure President Bush doesn't get back into office. That's kind of a bad thing to do in a lot of ways, but a fresh start, I feel, would be good," Brandenberg says.

Pollster Brad Coker says polls across the country indicate that the election will be less about what voters think about Kerry, and more of a referendum on Bush's first term.

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