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Poll: Three-way tie in race for governor
By Michael Khoo
Minnesota Public Radio
September 17, 2002

The governor's race is locked in a virtual three-way tie between DFLer Roger Moe, Republican Tim Pawlenty, and Independence Party candidate Tim Penny. A new poll from Minnesota Public Radio and the St. Paul Pioneer Press shows the three clumped tightly together as the campaigns head into the final two months of the election. Green Party candidate Ken Pentel trailed a distant fourth, and is in danger of failing to maintain major party status for the Greens.

See complete results of the gubernatorial poll.

The survey indicates 30 percent of likely voters are ready to cast their ballots for IP candidate Tim Penny. That's compared to 28 percent for Republican Tim Pawlenty and 27 percent for DFLer Roger Moe. Those small gaps fall within the poll's 4 percentage point margin of error, making the contest a statistical draw. But Penny campaign manager Jack Uldrich says he's pleased with the results. And he says Penny, like Gov. Ventura, may confound the pollsters by attracting unregistered, unlikely voters to the polls.

"People at the end of the day respect people who talk straight and tell them the truth and that that does resonate with voters, particularly those who haven't voted in the past. I mean, people are looking for something different. And Tim Penny, although he's not Gov. Ventura, still has that sort of appeal," according to Uldrich.

The poll contacted 625 registered voters after last week's primary election. Pawlenty spokesman Peter Hong also expressed satisfaction with his candidate's performance. Of the three front-runners, Pawlenty has substantially lower name recognition, with almost a quarter of respondents unfamiliar with his campaign. Hong says, given that, he's happy to see the candidate running competitively.

"As Tim Pawlenty's name ID and name recognition increase, so do the people who will -- the number of people who will -- vote for him in a head-to-head race. I think the other sign that's very important is the fact that he is the least known candidate in the race, and yet, he's right there in what is a neck-and-neck three-way race," Hong says.

Respondents could identify Penny and Moe roughly nine times out of ten. But Moe, unlike his two closest rivals, seems to split opinions right down the middle with roughly equal numbers viewing him favorably and unfavorably.

Moe spokeswoman Becky Christensen says that's not surprising given Moe's long-standing prominence as the Senate majority leader. She says as the other candidates become better defined, the race will shift.

"There's seven weeks now. And, you know, people've expressed their commitment to Minnesota values, and we know that many of them share the same values as Roger Moe. And we think that as they get to know the other candidates better that it'll be much more clear-cut as to whom they support," Christensen said.

Only three percent of respondents identified Green Party nominee Ken Pentel as their candidate of choice. And nearly 50 percent had never heard of him. The Pentel campaign will receive nearly $240,000 in public subsidies by the end of the month. He says that will help him reach more voters, including the twelve percent still undecided.

"We'll be getting public money so we'll be able to maybe get some radio ads, possibly television ads, out there so the public can learn more about myself and the campaign. So basically that's kind of what we'll be doing. We'll continue on our path here and hopefully the message can catch on," Pentel said.

But University of Minnesota political science professor Bill Flanigan say it may be all Pentel can do to capture the five percent needed to maintain major party status for the Greens. That status entitles Green candidates to instant ballot access and the public subsidies Pentel is now counting on. Flanigan also says it seems Penny is drawing votes from the middle of the spectrum and digging into the support of both Moe and Pawlenty.

"There's enough votes being taken from Moe and Pawlenty that probably both of those campaigns will turn some attention to Penny because they can both gain their would-be supporters," he said.

A hypothetical question asks respondents how they would vote in a race without the Greens or the Independence Party. In that match-up, Moe beats Pawlenty 41 percent to 36 percent. Fifteen percent remain undecided, and another 8 say without more choices, they'd write in a candidate or simply stay home on election day.

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