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St. Paul, Minn. — The MPR-Pioneer Press poll of 625 registered voters, conducted Wednesday through Friday, found the race essentially a dead heat. Bush's 1 percent lead is within the poll's margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. Another 4 percent are undecided.
Pollster Larry Harris of Mason-Dixon Polling and Research says the Minnesota results mirror what's happening in other battleground states around the country. He says Bush's approval ratings are below 50 percent, which generally spells trouble for an incumbent. But Harris says the race is so close that the conventional wisdom may not apply.
"There's been just terrible news on the ground for George Bush, from the economy to Iraq and the like," says Harris. But because his campaign is focused like a laser beam on the security and terror issue, and he's never gotten off message ... notwithstanding all that bad news for Bush, it's still as tight as it is."
Harris says Bush leads Kerry on the major issues of homeland security, the war in Iraq and now the economy in this latest poll. He says independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader doesn't appear to be much of a factor in Minnesota -- the poll found just 1 percent support for other candidates including Nader.
Poll respondent Eric Johnson, a commodity trader from Eagan, says he's voting for Bush, because he supports Bush on most foreign policy and domestic issues.
"Particularly economically, I believe that he would keep things more free as far as government intervention in everyday people's affairs," says Johnson. "I particularly would favor cutting taxes and keeping government smaller."
Because (Bush's) campaign is focused like a laser beam on the security and terror issue, and he's never gotten off message ... notwithstanding all that bad news for Bush, it's still as tight as it is.
Johnson says he also supports Bush's efforts to fight terrorism. He says he thinks the latest video from al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden shows the U.S. is winning that fight. He says bin Laden appears to be negotiating, and he notes that al Qaeda hasn't carried out another attack in the U.S. since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Poll respondent Tammy Anderson of Duluth sees the race differently. Anderson, a nursing student, says she'll vote for Kerry. She disagrees with the way Bush has led the country for the past four years, starting with the war in Iraq.
"Well, it was started for 9/11, and we went after the wrong guy for the wrong thing, and there were no weapons of mass destruction, so a lot of lives were lost for no reason," she says.
Anderson also thinks Kerry would do a better job on domestic issues such as education and health care.
While the MPR-Pioneer Press poll shows the race essentially a tossup, another poll out Sunday shows Kerry leading Bush by 8 points in Minnesota. The Star Tribune newspaper's Minnesota Poll shows Kerry with 49 percent support, Bush at 41 percent, and 8 percent undecided.
Republicans have criticized the Star Tribune poll, saying it underrepresents Republican voters. But Minnesota poll director Rob Daves insists the two polls' results aren't all that different.
"The Kerry numbers are quite similar, and what we've seen is that Bush has not been able to muster more than 50 percent in any poll, which is really bad news for an incumbent. His numbers tend to bounce around a little bit," says Daves. "But these numbers, the Bush numbers are within the two polls' margins of sampling error, and we could see that as the weekend goes on and voters start deciding things, that they could change even more."
Daves says the Minnesota Poll has found that Minnesota gets a bit more conservative the final weekend before the election, and the undecideds generally break for the Republican candidate. That poll talked to 996 likely voters between Tuesday and Friday, with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.