With two weeks to go, U.S. Sen. Tina Smith leads but hasn’t pulled away from her Republican challenger, while U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar appears to be headed for a decisive win on Nov. 6.
A new Star Tribune/MPR News Minnesota Poll found that Republican state Sen. Karin Housley trails Smith, the Democratic incumbent, 47 to 41 percent. Housley has gained new support from independent voters: 42 percent now back her, up from 33 percent in the poll last month, which gave Smith a 7-point overall edge.
The Republican also has more than doubled her strength among voters who are 18 to 34. Last month, 16 percent of that age group supported her; now 35 percent do.
But Smith, who assumed the seat vacated by former Sen. Al Franken in January, is the choice of more young voters — 58 percent prefer her. Smith also leads among women, Hennepin and Ramsey County voters, and those with incomes below $50,000.
Housley might have trouble closing the deal with voters: With 10 percent still undecided, more than a third didn’t recognize her name. The winner will finish the last two years of Franken’s term, and the seat will be on the ballot again in 2020.
The telephone poll of 800 likely voters was conducted Oct. 15-17 and has an error margin of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Klobuchar, a Democrat seeking a third term, has a big lead over GOP state Rep. Jim Newberger, 56 to 33 percent. She’s ahead in every region and among both genders and all age groups. Newberger’s name was unfamiliar to 60 percent in the poll. Only 1 percent didn’t recognize Klobuchar.
Green Party candidate Paula Overby and Dennis Schuller, the Legal Marijuana Now candidate, each received the support of fewer than 2 percent of voters in the Klobuchar-Newberger race. In the same category in the other Senate contest were unaffiliated candidate Jerry Trooien and Legal Marijuana Now candidate Sarah Wellington.
Voters who participated in the poll said their choices were driven by the political schism that’s shaping contests across the nation: their enthusiasm or dismay over President Donald Trump and his policies. In Minnesota, that dynamic has been underscored by Trump’s two campaign visits to the state.
Rachel Scheurer of Mankato is in the enthusiastic category. “I think this whole state needs to change to red, I really do,” she said. Retiring DFL Gov. Mark “Dayton is taxing the life out of us. It’s not right.”
Scheurer, 49, has already voted. Newberger, she said, has “a welcoming face … and fresh ideas.” Housley would bring a “fresh face” to Washington, she said.
Although her 2016 vote for Trump cost her some friendships, Scheurer is happy with his policies, but she wishes that he would limit the number of refugees allowed to move here.
John Heintz of Minneapolis is at the opposite end of the political spectrum. “I’m definitely not with the president on very much of his agenda,” he said. “We’ve managed to polarize ourselves pretty well.”
He’s motivated not just to vote; he also has donated money to some Democrats.
Heintz, 57, who works at the University of St. Thomas library, called Klobuchar “very evenhanded, something of a moderate and able to work across the aisle.” He liked Smith’s work for Dayton and former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and thinks she’s “levelheaded,” he said.
He disagrees with Trump and the GOP on a long list of issues: the environment and climate change, trade, deregulation, borders and health care.
September’s Minnesota Poll found that health care was the top issue for voters in the Senate races, and the new poll also tracked intense interest.
About half said ensuring that all Americans have health insurance is a federal government responsibility — although 70 percent of Republicans disagreed. And 7 in 10 of those polled supported allowing people to buy into public programs such as Medicare and MinnesotaCare, including sizable majorities of Republicans and independents.
Some Democrats are promoting “Medicare for All” plans that would create a single-payer system and eliminate private health insurance.
But Heintz has qualms about that idea. “Medicare is there for a purpose: It’s there to protect seniors and it needs to do that,” he said.
Helen Kruger, 68, a retiree and Medicare recipient who lives in Litchfield, disagreed. “I believe every single person is entitled to Medicare,” she said. “Medicare works.”
Fairness and generosity — and the absence of those qualities in politics — are on Kruger’s mind as she prepares to vote for Democrats. Republican policies “take away from the poor and give it to the businesses,” she said. “To me that’s so wrong. It’s so upsetting.”
Daniel Moran, a Marine veteran who recently underwent triple bypass surgery and survived cancer, is happy with his health care, which he receives from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
A former Democrat who switched parties around the time Jimmy Carter left office, he’s a Trump fan with no appetite for Democratic candidates.
What’s his view of Klobuchar? “The right issues, just the wrong approaches,” said Moran, 71, who lives in Askov. Smith? “The Democrats have not done a thing except throw money at problems.”
Trump? “He gets stuff done and on the way he’s insulting the hell out of the Democrats.” He wishes he had a photo of the president. “I’d put it on the wall right next to Jesus.”