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Poll Puts Paulsen in Statistical Tie With Democrat

The Twin Cities area is not only playing host to the Republican National Convention this week, but to one of the most competitive open-seat Congressional races in the country. A new poll conducted exclusively for Roll Call confirms it.

The race to replace retiring Rep. Jim Ramstad (R) is almost tied.

In a poll of 636 likely voters taken Aug. 26-28 for Roll Call by SurveyUSA, the automated polling firm, state Rep. Erik Paulsen (R) had 44 percent of the vote and Iraq War veteran Ashwin Madia (D) took 41 percent. The poll had a margin of error of 4 points.

The influential Independence Party, which generally draws a combination of votes from the left, right and center, will field a candidate in November after its primary on Sept. 9, and other small parties may as well; other candidates received 10 percent of the vote in the poll.

“Given the potential for a comparatively large 3rd-Party vote, and given that an additional 6 percent of voters are undecided, any outcome is possible on Election Day,” SurveyUSA wrote in a polling memo.

Democrats consider Minnesota’s 3rd district, which takes in wealthy and working-class suburbs surrounding Minneapolis, a top pickup opportunity this cycle. Although Ramstad, a well-liked moderate, racked up high winning percentages throughout his nine-term Congressional career, the district is much closer on the presidential level. President Bush won it by just 3 points in the 2004 White House election, and in the Roll Call poll, the presidential election was also very close.

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) was favored by 48 percent of the survey respondents, and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was the choice of 46 percent. The polling was done before Obama delivered his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention on Thursday night and before McCain announced his selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) as his running mate.

Both national political parties are high on their nominees. Paulsen, a well-respected lawmaker, quickly cleared the Republican field after Ramstad announced his retirement a year ago. Madia used a grass-roots army to upset a well-known state Senator at the Democratic nominating convention this spring.

Both candidates have been raising money at a steady clip, according to the most recent fundraising figures. Madia, a favorite of the liberal net roots, raised $353,000 from July 1 to Aug. 20 and finished the period with $914,000 on hand. Paulsen raised $320,000 during the seven-week period and had almost $1.2 million in the bank.

One demographic trend in the Roll Call poll was especially surprising.

Despite the fact that Obama is 47 years old and Madia is just in his 30s, it was Republican candidates who had the slight edge among younger voters in the district. Among voters 18-49, Paulsen led Madia, 45 percent to 38 percent. Madia was preferred by voters 50 and older, 44 percent to 42 percent.

The same trend held true in the presidential matchup. McCain led among the younger set of voters, 48 percent to 46 percent, while Obama was ahead among those 50 and older, 50 percent to 45 percent.

Minnesota strategists and pundits have suggested that the candidate who is best able to appeal to moderate voters, as Ramstad did so well, will ultimately prevail in this race. Among self-identified moderates in the poll, Madia had a 3-2 advantage.

But even as Bush and Congress had low job approval ratings in the poll (35 percent and 16 percent, respectively), Ramstad remains relatively popular in the district, and his favorability rating could prove beneficial for Paulsen.

Fifty-six percent of those surveyed said they had a favorable opinion of the Congressman, and just 9 percent had an unfavorable view. Twenty-seven percent were neutral, and 8 percent had no opinion.

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