A poll released this morning appears to show that it will be the Minnesotans who haven’t been paying attention yet to the governor’s race who ultimately will decide the winner.
The MPR-Humphrey Institute poll, which was conducted over a five-day period ending Sunday, shows DFLer Mark Dayton and Republican Tom Emmer tied at 34 percent and the Independence Party’s Tom Horner far back at 13 percent.
But the poll also shows that roughly half of the state’s likely voters aren’t yet engaged in the race. Addtionally, it shows that 17 percent of those who identify themselves as Republicans and 16 percent who call themselves DFLers haven’t yet decided whether to support their party’s nominee.
This poll, unlike a recent Star Tribune survey showing Dayton ahead, did not include potential voters who only have cell phones.
So what’s it all mean?
U’s Jacobs says any of the three could win
“Put simply, the race is wide open, and any one of these three candidates could win,” the University of Minnesota’s Larry Jacobs, who oversaw operation of the poll, told MPR.
The poll, which has a margin of error of 5.3 percent, would seem to show that Dayton has slipped the most in the minds of Minnesota voters. After all, most early match-ups and others polls after his primary victory over Margaret Anderson Kelliher, had showed him with a 10-point lead over Emmer.
But Dayton and even some of his opponents had believed that margin was inflated. Dayton had predicted on the night of his primary victory that this would be a very close race.
His campaign reiterated that sentiment in responding to the new poll.
“We always expected this to be a close race, and the poll shows that we have a lot of work to do before November,” said campaign spokeswoman Katherine Tinucci. “We will be working hard for the next 63 days and nights to earn the support of Minnesota voters.”
This morning, Stephen Imholte, Horner’s campaign manager, said that the Horner campaign had assumed Dayton would fall back. Dayton was the beneficiary of “all sorts of media” attention immediately after his primary win, Imholte said.
Perhaps the key question is just what that 13 percent for Horner means.
Not surprisingly, Imholte said it was a solid number for the IP campaign.
“We’re actually where we thought we’d be,”said Imholte. “The bases of each of the other candidates are soft. There is room to move.”
Imholte believes 13 percent keeps Horner viable among those still undecided. Viability — the belief that Horner can win — is vital to attract undecideds.
“I can’t tell you how many people have come up to Tom and said, ‘I want to vote for you …’ ”
There is a “but” implied at the end of that thought, however — “But” I don’t want to waste my vote.
Horner has six weeks to make his case, campaign says
“The tipping point is still five or six weeks out,” said Imholte of the Horner campaign, adding that it’s important for Horner to get to 20 percent by early October. “Remember, Jesse Ventura was at 27 percent 10 days out [from his 1998 election victory].”
At this point, the poll shows that Horner, a lifelong Republican, is drawing a bit more support from self-identified Democrats than he is Republicans.
But if that comes as a relief to Republicans, there’s a bit of troubling news for the GOP as well. Traditionally, Republicans are far more loyal to their party’s candidate than DFLers are. So far, that solidarity is lacking around Emmer.
But, of course, the Emmer campaign officially found the good news in the poll.
“More and more Minnesotans are tuning into this year’s election as the Labor Day approaches,” said campaign spokesman Carl Kuhl in a statement, “and are responding to Tom Emmer’s positive message of job creation, economic expansion, education reform and government redesign. This poll shows that voter reject the failed policies of President Obama and Senator Dayton and that the only poll that matters is Election Day.”
Kuhl noted that Emmer is “still in a dead heat” despite “Senator Mark Dayton, his friends and family [spending] million on ads smearing Tom.”
He made no mention of the amounts being spent “smearing” Dayton.
In some respects, the poll underscores stereotypes about the two parties.
People making $50,000 a year or less favor Dayton 44 percent to 21 percent. Emmer receives the support of those making $50,000 a year or more 40 percent to 29 percent.
The poll does show that President Obama isn’t exactly a popular figure in Minnesota these days, with just 42 percent approving of the job he’s doing. Gov. Tim Pawlenty isn’t exactly wowing Minnesotans, either. He’s getting a job-performance approval of 46 percent.
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.