A new U.S. Senate poll released today by the Humphrey Institute and Minnesota Public Radio finds Norm Coleman and Al Franken virtually deadlocked in the Gopher State’s U.S. Senate race.
While Franken’s statistically insignificant 41 to 40 percent lead in the poll comes as a bit of a surprise – Franken had only been measured with a lead in 1 of the previous 17 public polls dating back to February 2008 – what should not come as a surprise to either campaign is the 8 percent support currently amassed by former Senator and likely Independence Party primary winner Dean Barkley.
The Coleman-Franken battle has been one of the most expensive and brutal U.S. Senate races in recent years nationwide. In a state where ‘Minnesota nice’ still has some meaning, it is only natural that some voters who are disgusted with the Coleman and Franken attacks, and the hate-filled diatribes ideologues have littered across the blogs, will gravitate to a third party – especially in a state that is not shy about supporting third parties.
The Independence Party and Barkley backers will insist they are not ‘stealing’ votes from anyone, especially Franken. In a democracy, this is, of course, technically true – no vote is ‘owned’ by any candidate or political party. IP supporters will thus likely tout Barkley’s demeanor and credentials (as well as the Gopher State’s independent streak) for any support he receives.
This may have been true once upon a time, when Independent Party candidates were more closely aligned with the GOP or had a reputation for being ‘true independents.’ In fact, a recent study by Smart Politics of state House races found the DFL to be the beneficiary of IP candidates getting on the ballot.
But recent statewide campaigns by 2006 Gubernatorial IP nominee Peter Hutchinson and Barkley in 2008 reveal the Independence Party’s policy positions on many issues to be near carbon-copies of the DFL. As a result, in the 2008 U.S. Senate race, the HHH/MPR study finds Barkley is:
“…Competing with Franken for the angry voter who disapproves of Bush and sees the country as off on the wrong track. Franken is only winning 51% of Minnesotans who are concerned that the country is off-track and Barkley is a major reason that the Democrat is not getting even more disaffected Minnesotans — he is drawing 9% of these voters. A similar story is evident with regard to Minnesotans who disapprove of Coleman and Bush: Barkley is diverting 9% of these critics — voters that might otherwise support Franken.�?
A look at Barkley’s issue positions reveals, in fact, a significant overlap with modern Democratic Party values:
· On gay rights: “It’s long past time to acknowledge that the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution applies to all Americans, regardless of their sexual preference.�?
· On the War on Drugs: “America’s vaunted “war on drugs�? has been a costly and miserable failure. … All we have succeeded in doing is to create a huge criminal enterprise that thrives on supplying outlawed drugs, and a huge criminal population for essentially nonviolent crimes.�?
· On the War in Iraq: “It’s now incontrovertible that our own government misled us into starting a war with Iraq. It’s also now incontrovertible that this was a huge mistake. Didn’t we learn anything from Vietnam and the Gulf of Tonkin?�?
· On gas prices: “We must cut our oil imports and begin using clean energy alternatives such as biofuels, hydrogen cells, solar power, wind power and geothermal power as a substitute for oil.�?
Admittedly, Barkley does pepper his campaign platform with a few examples of that libertarian streak (beyond the overlap with the war on drugs position above) that once helped to define the Independence Party:
· On the drinking age: “18-year-old citizens of the United States should be given all legal rights of adulthood. If they can vote, join the military, and fight our wars, they certainly have earned the right to legally have a beer.�?
· On the 2nd Amendment: “I believe that the second amendment to our Constitution is as important as any of the others. I believe that all law abiding citizens have the right to own and bear arms.�?
But it is evident from the HHH/MPR poll that Franken and Barkley are largely going to fight over the same slice of the electoral pie: liberals and disgruntled moderates. In an election for which the Republican incumbent does not have a track record of being unpopular statewide (Coleman’s job approval numbers have outweighed his disapproval numbers in 41 of 42 public polls since 2003), Barkley’s presence in the U.S. Senate race was probably at the bottom of the Franken campaign ‘wish list’ this year.