Democratic U.S. Sen. Tina Smith holds a lead over Republican challenger Jason Lewis in her bid for a full six-year term in the U.S. Senate, according to a new Star Tribune/MPR News/KARE 11 Minnesota Poll.

With Election Day less than six weeks away, Minnesota voters said they prefer Smith by an eight-point margin, 49 to 41%. But 10% of voters remain undecided.

Smith's lead appears to be bolstered by strong support in Hennepin and Ramsey counties, where nearly seven in 10 voters back her bid. But she trails Lewis, a former congressman and radio personality, by 6 percentage points in the outer Twin Cities suburbs, home to politically decisive swing districts. She also trails by more than 20 percentage points in northern Minnesota.

The two candidates are running neck-and-neck in southern Minnesota, where Lewis leads 46 to 44%. The rivals have tangled frequently over agricultural issues, including farm subsidies, as both vie for the vote in farm country.

But the contest for U.S. Senate, the only statewide office on Minnesota's ballot this November, has in many ways mirrored the presidential race.

Chick Molitor, a retiree from the Stearns County city of Melrose, said although he leans Democratic, he doesn't always vote straight ticket. This year is an exception.

"At this point, I am an anything-but-Trump guy," he said. "Quite frankly, I feel like anyone supporting Trump, whether it be a congressman or a senator, in my mind we need to change that."

But Lewis' fervent support for President Donald Trump is a draw for Marthamae Kottschade, a 51-year-old Republican from Rochester. Kottschade, who works in retail, also likes Lewis' staunch support for law enforcement. As the mother-in-law of a deputy, she strongly opposes efforts to defund or overhaul local police, a stance backed by some Minneapolis Democrats. She's frustrated that Smith hasn't distanced herself further from those proposals.

"Jason Lewis definitely is a man who is going to stand for law and order, to rebuild and back up the police department," she said.

Like many leading Democrats, Smith has centered her campaign on issues such as controlling the coronavirus crisis and expanding health care access. She recently appeared alongside Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden at an event promoting labor and infrastructure in Duluth. Lewis has campaigned as an ardent Trump supporter, echoing the president's messages on law and order.

Smith's lead over Lewis closely resembles the Minnesota Poll results showing Biden ahead of Trump 48 to 42%, though Smith narrowly outperformed Biden in her matchup against Lewis.

Echoing the dynamics at the top of the ticket, the U.S. Senate poll also found voters deeply divided along party lines. Seven in 10 Republican voters plan to vote for Lewis, while eight in 10 Democrats are backing Smith. Independents, meanwhile, broke for Smith 46 to 39%. Biden holds a narrower, four-point lead with the must-win swing demographic.

The poll's findings are based on interviews with 800 likely Minnesota voters conducted from Sept. 21 to Sept. 23. The poll's margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Smith, a former political operative and lieutenant governor, won a 2018 special election to fill the remainder of U.S. Sen Al Franken's term after being appointed to the seat by then-Gov. Mark Dayton in late 2017. A slim majority of voters said they approve of her performance so far, while roughly one-third disapprove. But 17% of voters have no opinion, possibly reflecting a lack of familiarity with the state's junior senator.

Molitor, 69, didn't have much to say about Smith's tenure: "[She] hasn't done anything to warrant me to look elsewhere," he said. But he said his ballot reflects a belief that she's earned more time to make a mark.

"I think it takes a while to find your legs, find your voice," he said. "I hope she can walk in the same footsteps as [U.S. Sen.] Amy Klobuchar."

Torey Van Oot • 651-925-5049