WASHINGTON -- A Democratic poll released Wednesday showed Democrat Rep. Rick Nolan leading his GOP challenger Stewart Mills by 11 points, and Green Party candidate Ray "Skip" Sandman garnering 7 percent.
The poll, paid for by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, was a survey of 405 likely voters in the Eighth Congressional District from Sept. 25-28. The survey's margin of error is plus or minus 4.9 percent.
Of those polled, 48 percent said they favored Nolan and 37 percent supported Mills. Nine percent of those polled were still undecided, according to the survey by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner.
The same tracking survey in July showed Nolan leading Mills by only two points, 43 to 41. At that time, Sandman was at 6 percent and 10 percent of voters were undecided.
"Nolan still has work to do, but he has withstood thousands of points of attack ads well," the pollster said in the memo.
Minnesota's 8th is considered among the state's hottest, with more than $2 million already pouring in from independent groups. Most political forecasters still dub it a "toss-up."
In campaign finance reports filed over the summer, Nolan had outraised Mills and had $624,000 on hand to the challenger's $356,617.
Fresh third-quarter reports will be released by Oct. 15.
After state officials said Wednesday that rates on the MNsure health insurance exchange will increase an average of 4.5 percent, Democrats praised what they called a modest rise while Republicans seized on the figure, calling it "bogus" and "deceptive."
In a short address with reporters, Gov. Mark Dayton said the rise in the average rate was "predominately good news," praising Minnesota for having among the lowest insurance premiums in the country, according to state officials.
State Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R- Eden Prairie, and Rep. Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska, delivered the response for Republicans. Hann attacked the 4.5 percent figure, arguing that it masks what are larger rate increases for certain plans, participants and regions.
The MNsure rates releases comes hours before Gov. Dayton and GOP challenger Jeff Johnson are set to square off the first gubernatorial debate of the election cycle. In statement, Johnson criticized Dayton for what he called a failure to deliver on a promise that MNsure would decrease the cost of health insurance for middle-class Minnesotans.
"Time and time again, Mark Dayton has failed to deliver on his promises to middle-class Minnesotans," Johnson said. "In fact, the only promises he's kept are the ones he's made to the special interest groups who fund his campaign."
Wednesday's rise in the average rate was no surprise, according to analysts. That's partly because PreferredOne, the Golden Valley-based insurer, announced last month it would leave MNsure and not sell policies for 2015, according to Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman. PreferredOne currently offers the lowest-cost options on MNsure.
Prior to Wednesday’s announcement, health insurance experts pointed to other factors also could be driving premium increases. MNsure will withhold a larger share of premiums next year to cover the cost of the exchange. Health costs are growing, in general, and more patients with costly health problems likely will move from a state safety net program to MNsure.
DULUTH--U.S. Sen. Al Franken and his Republican challenger Mike McFadden faced off Wednesday morning in the first of three debates that found the incumbent defending his voting record while they clashed over topics ranging from Iron Range mining jobs and the environment to the Affordable Care Act.
After first congratulating Franken and his wife Franni on their upcoming 39th wedding anniversary, McFadden took the first swipe at Franken during the hour-long debate, repeating a key campaign refrain that the freshman Senator is a rubber stamp for President Obama by voting along with him 97 percent of the time—a statistic so frequently evoked by McFadden that Franken made light of it.
“I’m sorry, what was that number? Let me write it down or I’ll forget it.” Franken said to laughs from the audience.
“I believe the biggest single issue in this country is we’ve created a professional class of politician and it’s killing us, and I believe in six years Sen. Franken has become part of that class. McFadden said.
“He’s the most partisan senator in the Democratic party. He’s voted 159 out of 161 votes with the Democratic Party. That makes him the most partisan Senator in Washington, that’s a fact, that’s not my opinion.”
Franken, who was relatively subdued on stage compared to a fiery McFadden, said every vote he made was in the interest of Minnesotans.
“In an era where there’s been a lot of gridlock, I’ve worked across party lines to find common sense solutions,” he said, ticking off GOP Senators, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Pat Roberts of Kansas, with who he’s co-sponsored bills.
“You can slice and dice these numbers any way you want to come up with things that say pretty ridiculous things, but I work for Minnesota and I’ve been proud to do that,” he said, adding that a study cited by McFadden also lists Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who led last year’s government shutdown, as the most bipartisan in the Senate.
“On opposite ends of the spectrum, Al Franken is the Ted Cruz of the Democratic party,” McFadden retorted.
McFadden accused Franken of holding up energy projects like the proposed Keystone XL pipeline in the midst of overloaded and backlogged railways across Minnesota and the nation.
“There’s not been one pipeline built, you haven’t built any pipeline, the Keystone pipeline has been under the review process for six years. That is crazy." McFadden said. "That’s too long…until you start passing pipelines, we’re going to have a rail car shortage.”
Franken acknowledged that he voted “to not circumvent the regulatory process” but that he also voted that if Keystone is built, it would be done so with American steel, seizing on comments made by McFadden earlier this summer that he would opt for building the pipeline with Chinese steel if it were cheaper.
“Those are Minnesota jobs. I fight for Minnesota jobs. Maybe that’s the difference between me and Mr. McFadden. Maybe he sees profits over people.”
Asked by moderators about the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mining project, Franken acknowledged the region needed the jobs, but said that nine years of permits and studies before the project is approved are necessary for sustainable mining and avoiding damage to the environment.
“I can imagine how it can be frustrating especially for the people who want those jobs, but the only thing worse than taking a long time to get this right is getting it wrong. “Franken said.
McFadden called the project a prime example of government overreach, and accused Franken being “Washington-tized” for believing nine years of study is reasonable.
“The fact that this has taken nine years and over $200 million in regulatory review is not acceptable." he said.
McFadden criticized the Affordable Care Act as the largest domestic policy failure of a generation; a piece of legislation that wasn’t properly vetted. Franken defended it as a successful system that has helped countless citizens, including a constituent’s daughter with cystic fibrosis who he said is alive today because of the policy.
“Understand this,” Franken said. “If they repeal this, it goes back to square one. It goes back to a divided congress and all of this goes away.”
In closing statements, both candidates evoked their families—McFadden his six children, and Franken his year-old grandson—as reasons for wanting to do better for the nation.
Despite their differences, the candidates remained cordial throughout the debate, warmly shaking hands at the conclusion before heading off opposite ends of the stage to greet backers, who were divided evenly among the audience of about 100. Franken’s wife, Franni, approached the stage and chatted with McFadden afterward. The candidates’ next debate is at 10 a.m. Oct. 26 on WCCO TV.
Democratic Congressman Collin Peterson and his Republican challenger, Torrey Westrom, will participate in two televised debates this month.
Pioneer Public Television in Appleton will sponsor the first debate, which will air at 8 pm. Thursday, Oct. 23.
The second debate, hosted by Prairie Public TV, will air in the Fargo-Moorhead area at 8 pm. Friday, Oct. 24.
Westrom has also agreed to a debate on KSTP-TV's “At Issue” on October 17. Peterson has yet to commit, but his spokeswoman said the campaign is “working on other [debate] possibilities.”
Peterson is seeking a 13th term in Congress and Westrom is aggressively pursuing an upset in the Republican-leaning Seventh District.
GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney won the district by almost a 10-point margin in 2012, but Peterson has coasted to re-election for much of his tenure in Congress.
Incumbents with large leads in the polls don’t often agree to debates with their lesser-known opponents, but recently released polls paint contrasting pictures of how competitive the race is.
A poll commissioned by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in early September shows Peterson with a 24 point lead over Westrom. Poll numbers released last week by the National Republican Congressional Committee last week found Westrom down just five points.
Gov. Mark Dayton and Jeff Johnson, the Republican who wants his job, meet in Rochester Wednesday night for the first gubernatorial debate of the fall election.
The 7 p.m. debate at Mayo Civic Center is sponsored by the Rochester Chamber of Commerce, the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities and the Post-Bulletin newspaper. The intent of the organizers is that the debate focus on issues important to greater Minnesota.
Rochester has become a pivotal swing area in recent election cycles, as the historically Republican-leaning area has elected more Democrats to local offices and become a battleground in statewide races. Hannah Nicollet, the Independence Party's candidate for governor, is also participating in Wednesday night's debate.
The debate is scheduled to air live on the national public affairs cable channel C-SPAN 2.