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January 31, 2005
Dayton's Numbers Sink Rapidly

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune notes that approval ratings for both Minnesota senators has dropped over the past year. Both Norm Coleman and Mark Dayton have dropped below the 50% mark in the latest Minnesota Poll. But while the former attracts about the same level of support as President Bush received in the last election, Brave Sir Dayton has seen his popularity crash 15 points, winding up far below John Kerry's final numbers:

Dayton, a Democrat who's up for reelection next year, took the heaviest blow: His approval rating declined by 15 points in a year, from 58 percent to 43 percent. The approval rating for Coleman, who just began his third year in office, fell by 7 points, from 54 to 47 percent.

Dayton's job approval decreased among all categories of Minnesotans, grouped by age, education, income, party and ideology, with the largest drop among men -- down 27 points -- and 18-24 year olds -- down 31 points.

Coleman's biggest declines came among 25-34 year olds -- down by 19 points -- and those living in the seven-county metropolitan region -- down by 13 points.

Coleman's numbers come as no surprise to anyone. Norm Coleman served as Bush's most public point man in Minnesota, campaigning hard to push Minnesota into the red column. When one campaigns like that in such a tight and polarized race, it will affect the numbers of even the most popular politician. Coleman has four years to recover, and now that the presidential race is over, I suspect it will take just a few months.

For Dayton, however, the precipitous decline comes after the senior Senator finally made his way into the national spotlight -- and Minnesotans stopped seeing him as a cypher and started considering the embarrassment he caused. He may have thought that he demonstrated leadership with his ridiculous bug-out from DC, but even he sees that beating a very brave retreat has cost him, as well as his vituperative comments towards Condoleezza Rice during the confirmation debate:

"It's been a very politically controversial year," Dayton said. "I made controversial decisions in terms of closing my office to protect my staff and even challenging the confirmation of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. ... I would believe that they are part of the explanation, but I can't know for sure." ...

In interviews after the poll was conducted, some of the respondents made reference to Dayton's criticism of Rice.

"I don't think that was right," said Cornet, who normally votes Democratic.

Clarence Sutton, 84, a Republican from Gaylord, called Dayton "a disgrace to the state of Minnesota" and said that his attack on Rice was "rotten representation for the state of Minnesota."

The key for Dayton is the erosion among Democrats. That's a gap he can make up in the next election cycle, but it's possible that if he continues to embarrass Minnesota DFLers, he may find himself in the middle of an expensive primary challenge by party members who want a more stable person representing their interests. Right now it's uncertain whether Dayton can afford to run for re-election; if he has to fight the primary as well, he'll almost certainly go under. And with an anemic 43% approval rating, the DFL money won't exactly fly into his campaign coffers.

Another key for the numbers is the poll methodology. The Minnesota Poll contacted 832 adults -- not likely voters, or even exclusively registered voters. This has always produced skewed results in the past, but they skew in favor of the Democrats. (Remember that the M-Poll had Kerry up by eight points in the last week of the campaign; he won by 2.5%.) That makes the news doubly worse for Dayton. He lost 15 points in a poll which should favor him, a chilling prospect for his political future.

Dayton has not yet confirmed that he's running for re-election. If he continues to embarrass Minnesotans like he has over the past year, the DFL may take that decision out of his hands.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 31, 2005 5:45 AM

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