A new poll from Public Policy Polling finds that half or less of Minnesotans approve of Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken and Gov. Mark Dayton but they are still well ahead of the Republicans running against them.

The first public poll in the 2014 races released this fall finds that 51 percent of Minnesotans approve of Franken's job performance and 48 percent approve of Dayton's handling of his job. While those numbers do not compare to the 59 percent approval rating Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar has, making her one of the most popular senators in the country, they still show that more people like them than find them wanting.

Adding to the good news for the Democrats: the poll showed that none of the Republicans running against either of the incumbents even comes close to besting them.

Their solid positions a year out from their re-election bids mark a striking change from the first time they ran. Franken won his first election in 2008 by just a few hundred votes and Dayton won his by fewer than 10,000 votes in 2010.

But in head to head match-ups, both the senator and the governor had double digit leads over their Republican opponents, the poll found. The poll found that the Republican candidates, some of whom have been running for months, were largely unknown to Minnesotans.

"Republican challengers to Franken and Dayton seem to have serious name-recognition issues heading into 2014," the pollster's analysis said.

Public Policy Polling, which does polling for liberal and Democratic clients, surveyed 895 Minnesota voters between Oct. 27 and Oct. 29. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percent.

The poll was taken just after a non-binding, non-scientific Republican Party straw poll found Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson was the leading choice for governor and state Sen. Julianne Ortman led the pack among senate candidates.

But the pollster found no particular candidate preference among would be Republican voters. The part of the poll that included only Republicans had a plus or minus 5.7 percent margin of sampling error.

Asked who they would prefer among senate candidates Jim Abeler, Chris Dahlberg, Mike McFadden, Julianne Ortman, and Mont Moreno, 53 percent of Republicans said they were not sure.  (See page 52 below for more.)

Asked who they would prefer among the candidates for governor, 44 percent said they were not sure. The pollster asked  about who Republicans would most like to see as their candidate for governor  "given the choices of Scott Honour, Jeff Johnson, Julie Rosen, Marty Seifert, Dave Thompson, and Kurt Zellers." (See page 53 below for more.) Update: Rosen and Seifert are not yet running for governor but are considering making bids.

PPP Release MN 1031 by Rachel E. Stassen-Berger