Exit poll shows Iraq factors in Democrats successby Bill Wareham, Minnesota Public Radio,
Michael Caputo, Minnesota Public Radio
Exit polls showed the war in Iraq weighed heavily on the minds of Minnesota voters during this year's election. The Iraq effect was certainly apparent in the state's U.S. Senate race, and it may well have affected local races too. Ultimately, though, it wasn't strong enough to push Gov. Tim Pawlenty from office.
St. Paul, Minn. — The exit poll done by the Edison/Mitofsky research firm shows widespread dissatisfaction with the way things are going in Iraq. Six in 10 Minnesota voters said they disapprove of the war and a majority wants to withdraw some or all U.S. troops.
It's no surprise then that voters rejected Mark Kennedy in favor of Amy Klobuchar. The Republican congressman not only maintained steadfast support for the administration's war policy, he made it the centerpiece of his campaign.
Shawn Briggs of Edina backed Kennedy because of his Iraq stance, but noticed support waning even among conservatives.
"I was a little bit surprised to hear them say that they felt like the Iraq situation was mess and that we ought to get out," Briggs said. "Those things to me really, I guess, they kind of sideswiped me. I didn't expect those comments from some folks that I guess in the past I considered to be fairly conservative."
Political newcomer Tim Walz says he believes Iraq was a factor in his victory over six-term Republican incumbent Gil Gutknecht in the 1st Congressional District.
"I started talking about the war in Iraq and the things I saw going badly," Walz recalled. "And I wasn't just complaining, I was saying what we needed was an open, honest debate to try and find a solution, and I didn't feel like Gil wanted to address it. I think that he mentioned several times like he didn't think it was that big an issue. To me at that point I was absolutely convinced that I knew the district better and what the people wanted."
It's harder to make the case that Iraq played a direct role in campaigns for state offices that don't control foreign policy. But it's also hard to deny the breadth of the Democrats success and wonder whether the Iraq fallout trickled down.
Democratic newcomers ousted incumbents in the secretary of state and auditor offices, and enough Republican incumbents lost state House races to shift control to the DFL.
Voter Gerry Mantel of Chisholm says it affected his choices all the way down the ticket.
"Somehow the whole mentality, the whole way of dealing with foreign affairs or whatever has to change big time," Mantel said. "And if it takes kicking out all the people that are in and bringing in a whole new crowd, why that's my attitude."
Majority Leader Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, likened running under the GOP banner this year to swimming against a strong tide. Still, Minnesota Republicans were able to buck the trends in some high profile races. John Kline held on to his congressional seat and Michele Bachmann picked up Kennedy's vacated seat.
And although the exit poll shows anti-Iraq voters did drag down support for Gov. Tim Pawlenty, there was enough ticket-splitting for the incumbent to eke out a victory over DFLer Mike Hatch.
Scott Southworth of Cloquet is among those to vote Klobuchar for Senate, Pawlenty for governor: "On the national level I probably favor Democrats more because I like to see the U.S. Congress more in the control of the Democrats and put a balance of power in Washington. At the state level though, I don't know that there's a lot that can be done in regards to the Iraq war, so I'm voting more on my personal preferences and the issues that affect me at the state level."
The exit poll suggests satisfaction with Minnesota's economy offset the Iraq effect in Pawlenty's favor. Three-quarters of voters said the economy is good or excellent and Pawlenty enjoyed a 20 percentage point lead in that group.