WASHINGTON — The liberal House Majority PAC has released a new poll it says shows an opening for Democrat Mike Obermueller in his 2nd District rematch against Rep. John Kline.
The poll shows Kline with a 13-point lead over Obermueller until pollsters read two “balanced positive paragraphs about each candidate,” after which Obermueller surges 12 points and takes the lead, 44 percent to 38 percent. The poll of 400 2nd District residents has a 4.9 percent margin of error.
What do we make of this poll? Let’s toss out the top-lines. I don’t buy the idea that a “positive paragraph test” like this can lead to a 12-point shift in candidate preference. And the partisan breakdown here looks a bit off, which probably skews the results: The 2nd is considered a lean-Republican district, but in this poll, Democrats make up a majority of those who identify with a political party. President Obama’s numbers are also 5 points higher here than they were on Nov. 6, even as his approval rating nationally has trended downward over the same period of time.
Basically, then, this poll looks to prove what the Obermueller campaign — and probably every Democratic congressional challenger in the country — hopes to be true, that voters are sick of gridlock and that they can win if they effectively pin it on Republicans. The exact wording of the “balanced positive paragraphs” wasn’t included in the public polling document, except to say Obermueller “works together with others to meet common goals.” That message sounds awfully nice, and in a hyper-controlled environment like an opinion poll, it’s a winner (as evidenced by Overmueller’s big gains after the paragraph was read).
But head-to-head campaigns aren’t hyper-controlled environments, and when Obermueller ran in one last year, he lost to Kline by more than 8 points. True, that was Kline’s closest re-election race ever, and the second-closest in Minnesota last cycle, and redistricting moved the 2nd a bit further left … but Kline still won pretty easily, especially considering President Obama won the district at the same time (it was a 226-vote victory, but that counts).
There’s probably another motivation behind the poll, too: Democrats want to make the 2nd competitive, and with the 6th looking like a safe Republican seat now that Rep. Michele Bachmann and Jim Graves have left the race, it might well be the closest House race in Minnesota next cycle. Groups like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the House Majority PAC want to help Obermueller, but he’s got to help himself, first — he has less than $100,000 on hand, as of June 30, compared to Kline’s $1.1 million. So you can bet this poll is meant to entice Democratic donors to open their checkbooks and help him out. The polling firm acknowledges as much in their memo: “The caveat is Obermueller will only have this chance in 2014 if he has the media dollars to articulate his message.”
So, again, what do we make of this poll? In a practical sense, the numbers mean very little. But it still serves two purposes: Hinting at a message Obermueller and other Democrats will look to seize on next year, and trying to give him a little fundraising momentum against a very deep-pocketed incumbent.
Devin Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry