DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken hold double-digit leads against Republican rivals, but a significant number of Minnesotans remain undecided in both of this year’s premier races, according to a new Suffolk University poll.

The poll, conducted among 800 likely voters between April 24 and Monday, shows Franken with a 15 to 16 percentage point lead in head-to-head matchups with Republicans contenders. Dayton is ahead by 12 to 17 percentage points against the Republicans who hope to oust him. Both Franken and Dayton, however, are below 50 percent.

But there is significant room for change. In both races, the number of people who say they are undecided outweigh the gap between the Democratic incumbents and their Republican opponents.

In the governor’s race, about a fifth of likely voters say they are undecided and in the Senate race, the undecided population was more than a quarter of the polling sample.

The poll found that the Republican hopefuls in both races have little name recognition among voters. More than half of Minnesotans said they had never heard of eight of the 10 Republican candidates for governor or Senate, who largely have campaigned among potential GOP delegates or primary voters.

Two hopefuls were better known than the others — former Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Zellers and 2010 gubernatorial candidate Marty Seifert. Still, about 45 percent of Minnesotans said they’d heard of neither.

The poll, which Boston-based Suffolk University Political Research Center director David Paleologos said was not paid for by any outside group, had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for the statewide numbers.

It included 39 percent of self-identified Democrats, 30 percent of self-identified Republicans and 31 percent of people who identified with the Independence Party, as an independent or who did not identify with any party.

Like the Suffolk poll, other polls this year have found Dayton with double-digit leads. The polling on Franken’s re-election are more mixed. Some polls have found him with slim or high single-digit leads


Collision bill awaits governor’s signature

A bill requiring Minnesota drivers involved in collisions to stop and investigate awaits Gov. Mark Dayton’s signature into law.

The measure, which cuts off the “ignorance” defense commonly used in hit-and-run cases, passed the Minnesota House by 124 to 3 on Tuesday. A Senate version passed 44-16 last week.

Sponsored by Rep. Paul Rosenthal, DFL-Edina, and Sen. Kevin Dahle, DFL-Northfield, the bill comes in the wake of a 2010 state Supreme Court ruling that reversed the criminal vehicular homicide convictions of Mohammed Al-Naseer in the hit-and-run death of Kane Thomson, after prosecutors failed to prove Al-Naseer knew he struck a person or vehicle when he left the scene, as required by current law.

Naseer’s reversal was used by the defense team for Amy Senser in a high-profile trial that ended in her conviction and prison sentence. Senser, the wife of former Minnesota Vikings player Joe Senser, struck and killed Anousone Phanthavong on a darkened freeway ramp in August 2011. Throughout the trial, Senser maintained that she left the scene because she believed she had struck a construction cone or barrel. Senser was released from prison last week and transferred to a work-release facility.

That loophole, of “not knowing what was struck” will now be eliminated as a legal defense for drivers accused of hit-and-run.

“It’s common sense for most Minnesotans that if you hit something, it’s your responsibility to stop and investigate what you hit,” Rosenthal said in a statement. “This bill sets out clear language that Minnesota courts will not tolerate people leaving the scene of a collision without at least attempting to see what they collided with and making contact with the victims if there were other individuals involved. It’s the sort of personal responsibility that we expect.”