It’s been a dozen years since a Republican won a statewide office in Minnesota, but that streak may come to an end — thanks to the vice chair of the DNC. Keith Ellison’s narrow lead over Doug Wardlow in last month’s Star Tribune/MPR poll has evaporated, with the gap in the attorney general race swinging a dozen points. Wardlow now leads by seven — but with a surprisingly large number of undecideds still left (via Gary Gross):
Republican Doug Wardlow has pulled ahead of Democrat U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison in the race for Minnesota attorney general, a Star Tribune/MPR News Minnesota Poll found.
Wardlow now leads by 7 percentage points, at 43 percent to 36 percent for Ellison, just a month after the Democrat held a 5-point edge in a September Minnesota Poll. The switch follows a turbulent period for the Ellison campaign, as he has navigated the political fallout of his former girlfriend’s allegation that he abused her in 2016, a claim he denies. …
The poll, which has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, included interviews with 800 likely voters and was conducted Oct. 15-17. That means it was primarily conducted just before the public release of Ellison’s divorce file on Oct. 17, which did not include any claims he abused his ex-wife.
It also predated the televised debate between the two candidates last Sunday. Wardlow pressed Ellison both on his association with Louis Farrakhan and on the domestic-violence allegation by Ellison’s former girlfriend. For some voters, it might have been the first time they’ve heard it; the local media hasn’t exactly been assiduously demanding answers from Ellison despite his status as a candidate for the top law-enforcement job in Minnesota. Ellison offered a denial, but the combination of the two issues probably won’t help Ellison convince many of the undecideds still extant.
A couple of caveats should be considered, however. First, Wardlow has 86% of Republicans supporting him with 9% undecided; Ellison only has 76% of Democrats supporting him with twenty percent undecided. With just two weeks to go, it’s a real question as to how many of those Democrats will grudgingly vote for Ellison for party loyalty and solidarity, but some of them surely will. On the other hand, 18% of independents are still undecided, and Wardlow is blowing out Ellison among unaffiliated voters 47/21. If those voters were comfortable with Ellison, they’d almost certainly already be in his corner — and one can say the same for undecided Democrats too.
The distribution of those undecideds may also hold some importance. The poll divides the state into four areas — the Twin Cities counties, the suburban ring around them, and then southern and northern Minnesota. Ellison leads in the Twin Cities counties, but only by a 50/29 margin — horribly low for a man who spent more than a decade in Hennepin County politics. Wardlow leads everywhere else by wide margins: 51/27 in the metro suburbs, 49/36 in southern Minnesota, and 48/30 in northern Minnesota.
However, all four areas have double-digit undecideds. That may help Ellison in the Twin Cities if those voters come back home to him; Ellison’s politics is definitely more in their comfort zone, even if Ellison personally isn’t. That region has more votes to get, too, which might push Ellison closer to a win. It’s just as possible, though, that those voters might just sit out this race while casting votes in others as a protest against both candidates — and the fact that these progressive voters still haven’t come to terms with Ellison at this late date strongly suggests that many of them won’t at all in the end.
As for the other regions, it seems more likely that those voters will break away from Ellison rather than toward him, especially in the two greater-Minnesota areas where the GOP expects to pick up two open House seats in MN-01 and MN-08. Pete Stauber’s running away with the latter, and his GOTV spending will likely help out Wardlow and other Republican candidates on the ballot. Even in the suburbs, though, it’s tough to see undecideds breaking toward the radical progressive, especially when Wardlow is holding a 47/21 lead among independents.
That may help in another race, too. Could Republicans win two statewide races this year? We’ll get back to that question later today.