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New NYT/Siena poll finds Republican Pete Stauber with big lead in Minnesota’s Eighth District

The district has  seen an eye-popping $7.1 million in advertising spending by outside groups — most if it negative.

Per the poll, Pete Stauber, far right, had nine-point leads among female voters and voters over 65, a 10-point lead with independents, and a nine-point lead among voters on the Iron Range.
Clint Austin/Forum News Service

The result of the second major poll of the nationally-watched race in Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District is in, and it’s a good one for Republicans. The New York Times/Siena College survey found Republican Pete Stauber up 15 points on Democrat Joe Radinovich — a huge swing from NYT/Siena’s first poll in the 8th, which had Radinovich ahead by one point.

The live poll, which recorded responses from 507 people over the weekend, has Stauber with 49 percent of the vote, and Radinovich with 34 percent. Thirteen percent were undecided, and the margin of error was 9.2 points. (There is a third-party candidate in the race, the Independence Party’s Ray “Skip” Sandman, whose support was not polled.)

Stauber, a St. Louis County commissioner and former Duluth police officer running as an ally of President Donald Trump, had clear advantages across the demographic and geographic blocs that make up this district, a swath of northeastern Minnesota that includes Duluth, the Brainerd lakes area, the Iron Range, and the northern Twin Cities exurbs.

Per the poll, Stauber had nine-point leads among female voters and voters over 65, a 10-point lead with independents, and a nine-point lead among voters on the Iron Range, the string of mining communities that have been the heart of this longtime DFL stronghold.

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The New York Times and Siena, which have polled several dozen battleground U.S. House and Senate races around the country, returned to CD8 after polling it just after Labor Day. Comparing the results of their two surveys shows how dynamics of this race may be shifting after a month of intense campaigning, debates, and attack ads targeted at both Stauber and Radinovich.

The first NYT/Siena poll had Radinovich leading Stauber, 44 percent to 43 percent, with 13 percent undecided. Radinovich, a 32-year old former state legislator and DFL campaign operative, had leads among the same key demographics that Stauber won in the most recent poll.

Also in the initial poll, both candidates had positive approval ratings — Radinovich had a net 12-point approval advantage, while Stauber had a net one-point advantage — but many voters did not have an opinion of either candidate: 51 percent said they didn’t know enough about Radinovich to approve or disapprove, while 45 percent said the same about Stauber.

Those approval dynamics shifted significantly with this latest poll: Radinovich was barely above water, with 36 percent of respondents approving of him and 35 percent disapproving of him. Stauber, meanwhile, had a 48 percent approval rating, and a 22 percent disapproval rating. The share of respondents who said they did not know much about the candidates decreased: 29 percent didn’t know if they approved of Radinovich, while 31 percent said the same of Stauber.

A reason behind that shift might be the eye-popping $7.1 million that outside groups have dumped into the 8th District so far, a sum that has mostly gone toward negative ads to influence perception of these two first-time candidates for Congress.

Joe Radinovich
MinnPost photo by Brian Halliday
The first NYT/Siena poll had Joe Radinovich leading Pete Stauber, 44 percent to 43 percent, with 13 percent undecided.
The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC linked to GOP establishment figures like Speaker Paul Ryan, has accounted for much of that outside spending: it has dropped close to $4 million in negative ads on Radinovich, hitting him on everything from his support of single-payer health care to past unpaid tax bills and failures to appear in court.

Republicans are bullish on their chances in CD8, and many believe it is their best opportunity to flip a Democratic-held seat in the entire country. Democrats, seeking to gain ground in suburban districts such as Minnesota’s 2nd and 3rd as they work to take back the U.S. House, have been outgunned in CD8: the party’s main House campaign arm has spent $1.2 million here on ads against Stauber.

Though there haven’t been many publicly-released polls of the CD8 race, the new NYT/Siena poll is an outlier. The other publicly released survey of the CD8 race was commissioned by the Radinovich campaign in late September, and it found the Democrat up by one point, 45 percent to 44 percent.

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One meaningful difference between the NYT’s first go in CD8 and its second: voters’ feelings about Trump, who won the district by 15 points in 2016. The first poll found the president’s approval rating one point underwater, while the second poll had him 18 points ahead, with 55 percent of voters approving of his performance. With few people undecided about President Trump two years after his election, the two polls’ results suggest his real approval rating is somewhere in between.

Most third-party election forecasters rank the CD8 race as a toss-up, though the model built by the outlet FiveThirtyEight gives Stauber a five-in-six chance to win the race, even as it gives Democrats a four-in-five chance to win back the U.S. House.

Shortly after the poll ended, Radinovich’s campaign was fundraising off the results, urging supporters to “rush a donation” to “turn this race around.”