A new round of polling in Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District, a battleground in the fight for control of the U.S. House of Representatives in these midterms, shows what most observers of the race already knew: Rep. Jason Lewis is facing a very strong challenge from DFL candidate Angie Craig in what has long been considered a “toss-up” race.
But this week’s poll from the New York Times and Siena College — a live survey that was still under way on Tuesday — suggests this race may no longer be a toss-up: With responses from more than 400 voters in CD2, the poll found Craig with a 14-point advantage over Lewis, 52 percent to 38 percent. Ten percent of voters were undecided.
If that result holds, Craig’s lead would be greater than the poll’s 10-point margin of error, a standard that, in the eyes of most pollsters, indicates a clear advantage for one candidate. Craig’s 14-point advantage would also be one of the biggest leads for any candidate among the 30 U.S. House races nationwide surveyed by the Times and Siena, a group that includes Minnesota’s 3rd and 8th Districts. (In CD3, the poll gave Democrat Dean Phillips a nine-point lead over GOP Rep. Erik Paulsen; in CD8, Democrat Joe Radinovich led Republican Pete Stauber by one point.)
The CD2 poll indicated a clear advantage for Craig across key voting blocs: Among voters 65 and older, Craig led Lewis 53 percent to 34 percent; among women, Craig led 56 percent to 34 percent; and among voters who identified as independent — a group that made up a third of those surveyed — Craig led 49 percent to 35 percent.
Typically, challengers find themselves above water in polls’ favorability ratings, but most people report they don’t know much about them — meaning their opinions could be influenced by negative ads. Incumbents, on the other hand, may be disliked by more voters, but are known quantities in their districts.
The NYT/Siena poll had some notable findings on that front: 31 percent of voters polled didn’t know if they approved of Craig, while 27 percent said the same about Lewis — a roughly similar number, which isn’t especially surprising given that this is a rematch between two candidates who ran in 2016. (Lewis won that contest by 1.8 points.)
But among voters who did have an opinion of the candidates, the results could not be more different: 38 percent of respondents gave Craig a favorable rating, and 31 percent gave her an unfavorable rating. Lewis, meanwhile, was 15 points underwater: 44 percent of respondents had an unfavorable opinion of him, while 29 percent had a favorable opinion.
Craig’s best result yet
The NYT/Siena survey is the best showing yet for Craig out of the four polls on the race that have been made public so far. A SurveyUSA poll, commissioned by KSTP and conducted in mid-September, showed Craig narrowly leading Lewis, 48 percent to 45 percent, which was well within the poll’s nine-point margin of error. Another mid-September poll, conducted by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling for the advocacy group Protect Our Care, found Craig leading by the same margin.
The only public poll showing the Republican with a lead is a survey from August, commissioned by the Lewis campaign, which had him leading by one point.
With just over a month until Election Day — and with Minnesotans already participating in early voting — the NYT/Siena poll results suggest that the race could be breaking in Craig’s favor.
While prior polls in CD2 had President Donald Trump’s approval rating roughly even, the NYT/Siena poll finds him decisively underwater: 37 percent of voters in CD2 approve of Trump, per the survey, versus 56 percent who disapprove. (Trump won CD2 in 2016 by 1.2 points.)
The poll also asked voters their opinions regarding Judge Brett Kavanaugh, the U.S. Supreme Court nominee whose confirmation battle has become a national controversy over allegations that he sexually assaulted women in high school and college. Lewis has vocally defended Kavanaugh, issuing a statement last week — a rarity for a House member on a Supreme Court fight — calling the episode a “sad circus” and arguing it shows that “no individual will be safe from deliberate smears solely designed to attain political power” if Democrats win in the midterms.
The NYT/Siena poll found that 49 percent of those surveyed in CD2 oppose Kavanaugh’s confirmation, while 43 percent support it. Thirty-three percent said they believed the allegations against him, while 24 percent said they did not believe them. (A plurality, 44 percent, said they did not know.)
In the past month, two of the leading election handicappers — the Cook Political Report and Inside Elections — moved CD2 from the “toss-up” column to the “lean” or “tilt” Democratic columns. (Those outlets did the same for the CD3 race.) This week, Politico reported that deep-pocketed GOP outside groups are cutting off certain incumbents who are falling behind in order to shift resources elsewhere; Lewis and Paulsen were mentioned as being in danger.
The poll is ongoing — the NYT/Siena have typically polled anywhere from 500 to 550 people in House races — with responses posted in real time online. The CD2 poll should be wrapped up by Tuesday night.