There are good reasons the Democratic Party is targeting Minnesota for one of their best chances at a pick-up in the 2008 elections for the U.S. Senate.
First, Republican incumbent Norm Coleman’s job approval ratings have generally been mediocre to just south of mediocre throughout most of his four and one-half years in office. Of late, they are going further south. The latest SurveyUSA poll in Minnesota marks Coleman’s lowest numbers to date: 43 percent approval, 48 percent disapproval. Coleman has never eclipsed the 60 percent approval mark in any public poll—a feat accomplished just this month in the SurveyUSA poll by DFL Senator Amy Klobuchar (61 percent). Coleman’s numbers are thus not lackluster due to a generalized backlash against Washington D.C. per se, as Klobuchar is registering strong support for her work on the Hill at the moment.
Secondly, more and more Minnesotans are identifying themselves as Democrats rather than Republicans. In a Humphrey Institute survey just a few weeks before the 2004 election, 33 percent of Minnesotans identified themselves as Republicans, 30 percent Democrats, and 31 percent independents. In monthly polls by SurveyUSA since March 2007, more Minnesotans have identified themselves as Democrats than Republicans by 12-point, 13-point, 9-point, 16-point, and 11-point (35 to 24 percent in July) margins.
Thirdly, Coleman’s numbers against the potential DFL nominee are not trending well for the incumbent. According to the new SurveyUSA poll, in a head-to-head pairing against Mike Ciresi, Coleman leads 48 to 42 percent, down from a 57 to 34 percent advantage in a February SurveyUSA poll.
When matched up against Al Franken, Coleman holds a 7-point 49 to 42 percent lead, down from 57 to 35 percent in February. In May, a MPR poll showed Coleman still with a 20 plus-point advantage—54 to 32 percent.
In the first public poll matching Coleman against DFL-er Jim Cohen, Coleman leads 49 to 37 percent.
While Coleman’s numbers are somewhat alarming for the GOP, he is far from facing a crisis situation. Coleman has demonstrated himself to be one of the most centrist Republicans in the Senate (National Journal’s 2007 rankings of U.S. Senators found Coelman to by the 4th closest Senator to the center, based on its 2006 vote ratings), and the Senator will undoubtedly campaign on that to appeal to independent voters. Coleman would be wise to distance himself now and through his re-election campaign as far from President Bush as possible—whose job approval ratings has dipped below 30 percent in the Gopher State.