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Less than two months before Election Day, the crowded race for Minneapolis mayor remains chaotic and unpredictable with no clear front-runner, according to a poll conducted for the Star Tribune.
City Council Member Don Samuels and Dan Cohen, who was council president in the late 1960s, both polled at 16 percent among likely voters — equal with those who said they are undecided.
The two candidates who have raised the most money and amassed the most political endorsements so far are trailing behind: Council Member Betsy Hodges at 14 percent and former Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Andrew, who once led the state DFL Party, at 10 percent.
The results show just how unpredictable the race remains eight months after some candidates began campaigning. More than $700,000 has already been spent in efforts to woo voters — most of it by Andrew, Hodges and Cohen.
Nearly three dozen candidates are vying to replace longtime Mayor R.T. Rybak in a Nov. 5 election that will use ranked-choice voting, in which there is no primary and citizens pick their first-, second-, and third-choice candidates. The Star Tribune poll surveyed voters on eight of the candidates who have raised the most money so far, a sign of candidate strength. All but two — independents Cam Winton and Cohen — are DFLers.
The poll of 800 likely voters was conducted Sept. 8-10, by Pulse Opinion Research, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
The sheer number of candidates has made it hard for some voters to get their arms around individual candidates and their messages.
Theatrice Williams, of the North Side, said the race has not engaged his family, even though he is familiar with the candidates — he’s received online messages from the Jackie Cherryhomes campaign, a call from Betsy Hodges’ mother, and ran into Samuels at a block party.
“There are so many [candidates] out there, it’s much more difficult to get a feel for where they stand on key issues, and because this is ranked-choice voting, they are not calling one another out … it’s ‘Be kind to your opponent because you don’t want to turn voters off,’ ” said Williams.
The results are at odds with other measures of candidate strength. Samuels came in third in fundraising when campaign finance reports were released earlier this month and also had low delegate support in early rounds of balloting at the DFL convention in June. The party gathering ended with no endorsement.
Thomas Klein, who lives near Lake Harriet, said he is supporting Samuels because he is “involved closely with a hands-on approach toward what I think is the top issue that potentially pulls Minneapolis apart: the economic and racial inequalities. … I particularly like the lack of political gloss he has.”
Samuels said the results show that their message is resonating with voters, who he believes are ready to confront tough problems like crime and the educational achievement gap — hallmarks of his campaign. “We’ve dealt with issues that affect the most vulnerable … and that’s what we’re going to keep doing,” he said.
Cohen, for his part, is the only candidate so far who has blitzed TV, radio stations, newspapers and billboards with advertising — spending $100,000 on ads alone. The city planning commissioner said he is using money he received from a settlement two decades ago with the Star Tribune. Unlike the other candidates, he has raised hardly any campaign cash from donors.
“I heard him on the radio and I know next to nothing about the other candidates,” said B.C. Hanson in explaining why he picked Cohen as his first choice. Through a WCCO ad, the northeast Minneapolis retiree learned that Cohen opposed the new Vikings stadium, and “that probably meant the most to me.”
Cohen said he is “very pleased that I’ve created awareness of the campaign at this point.” He added that the poll demonstrates the Vikings stadium deal is “the issue that haunts this campaign.”
Asked about the poll results, Andrew campaign manager Joe Ellickson said that an internal poll conducted for the campaign by polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner shows “a drastically different story.”
“We’re fairly confident that we do have the lead in this race,” Ellickson said. “But we know it’s wide open and we know we need to continue to do work to make sure we’re connecting with each and every voter.”
In a statement Saturday, Hodges said the poll results confirms what they already know: “People are still making up their minds in a very competitive race, for their first, second and third choices.” she said.
Despite the ability to rank candidates, 24 percent and 32 percent of respondents were unsure when asked about their second and third choices, respectively. Those who did have a second choice favored Cohen and Samuels. Voters’ second and third choices could prove hugely important on Election Day, since no candidate is likely to garner 50 percent of the vote on the first round of balloting.
“The mayor has very little power — it’s all in the council, so I don’t have any feeling that there is a difference in the candidates,” said resident John Barker, who is focused much more intently on his 13th ward council election.
Andrew had the highest favorability rating (30 percent), followed by Samuels (28 percent) then Hodges and Cherryhomes (tied at 25 percent). Cherryhomes has the highest unfavorability rating (28 percent), followed by Hodges (20 percent) and Samuels and Fine (tied at 17 percent).
More union members went for Samuels as their first choice (28 percent) over any other candidate, though Andrew has received the bulk of endorsements and campaign contributions from unions. More white voters (15 percent) cited Hodges, who is white, as their first choice over any other candidate. More black voters said Samuels, who is black, was their first pick (30 percent) over any other contender.
Meanwhile, more Republicans (23 percent) went for Samuels over other candidates, while more Democrats went for Samuels and Hodges (each winning 21 percent) over their competitors.
One factor that could sway the race is an endorsement from Rybak, who leaves office popular with city voters.
Seventy-one percent of respondents said they “somewhat approve” or “strongly approve” of Rybak’s performance as mayor — with 40 percent feeling strongly. Only 20 percent disapproved.
The mayor has yet to say if or when he’ll make an endorsement.