Republican John McCain has gained ground on Democrat Barack Obama in the presidential race in Minnesota, while GOP Sen. Norm Coleman is widening his lead over Democratic challenger Al Franken, according to a new poll.
A Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday found that Obama leads McCain 46 percent to 44 percent among the state's likely voters, a statistical tie. That tossup result is at odds with other recent polls showing Obama with an average lead of more than 5 percentage points. A Quinnipiac poll last month found a whopping 17 percentage-point Obama lead.
The poll also conflicts with another survey released Thursday by Rasmussen Reports, which shows Obama with a 49 percent to 37 percent lead in the state.
In the Senate race, Quinnipiac shows Coleman comfortably ahead, with the support of 53 percent of likely voters, compared with 38 percent for Franken.
Again, however, the Rasmussen poll reveals a different picture, a tossup with Coleman at 44 percent and Franken at 43 percent.
The polls have different sample sizes, methodologies and error margins.
The Quinnipiac poll was conducted among 1,261 likely Minnesota voters between July 14 and Tuesday and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points. The Rasmussen poll was conducted Tuesday and reached 500 likely voters with automated calls and has a margin of sampling error of 4.5 percentage points.
According to Clay Richards, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute in Connecticut, McCain has picked up support among younger voters, independents and voters in the Twin Cities suburbs.
But he added that the race is still in flux because more than a third of independent voters say they haven't made up their minds.
In Franken's bid to unseat Coleman, Richards said the Democrat faces "an uphill battle," given that almost 20 percent of voters in his own party say they'll vote for the Republican incumbent.
The two polls continue a pattern of showing widely divergent results in the Senate race. Last month, Quinnipiac had Coleman up by 10 points, 51 to 41 percent; two weeks ago, Rasmussen had Franken up by 2 points.
Said Franken campaign spokesman Andy Barr, "We're picking up two things that make us think we've got the momentum. One, our crowds keep getting bigger and more excited. And two, people keep telling us they want a campaign about the issues. And since we're the only campaign doing that right now, we're pretty happy with the state of play."
Coleman spokesman Luke Friedrich said that while the campaign expects a close race, the Quinnipiac poll and other independent surveys show "a pattern of positive support for Senator Coleman that is holding steady."
Other battleground results
The Quinnipiac poll in Minnesota, commissioned by the Wall Street Journal and washingtonpost.com, was one of four battleground state polls released by Quinnipiac on Thursday.
In Wisconsin, the poll shows Obama ahead of McCain, 50 percent to 39 percent. McCain has inched ahead of Obama in Colorado, 46 percent to 44 percent. And in Michigan, Obama leads 46 percent to 42 percent.
As is the case in Minnesota, the results in all three states represent an erosion in Obama's position and reflect recent trends in national polls, said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
McCain campaign officials were heartened by the results, Obama's downplayed them.
"I think it shows some movement and very good progress for Senator McCain," said Gov. Tim Pawlenty, one of the Republican candidate's national co-chairs and widely considered to be on a short list as his running mate.
Said Jeff Blodgett, Obama's campaign director in the state: "There are going to be all sorts of polls, so we don't take one all that seriously."
In all four states, energy policy has emerged as the most potent issue in the race, outstripping the war in Iraq.
By a 49 percent to 41 percent margin, likely voters in Minnesota say a candidate's energy policy is more important than his policy on the war in Iraq. And voters say, by 34 percent to 26 percent with 40 percent undecided, that Obama has the best energy policy.
Staff writer Kevin Duchschere contributed to this story.
Bob von Sternberg • 612-673-7184