DCCC Poll Shows Tightening Race in Minnesota's 3rd District

Democrats need to flip suburban districts like this one to win the House

Minnesota Rep. Erik Paulsen is a Democratic target this fall. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

In the face of a narrowing presidential race and some Senate races looking better for Republicans, Democrats believe a suburban Minnesota district has swung strongly in their favor, representing the kind of dramatic shift they'd need to make serious gains in the House. 

State Sen. Terri Bonoff leads GOP Rep. Erik Paulsen 40 percent to 38 percent in a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee poll of the North Star State's 3rd District. Bonoff's lead is well within the poll's 5.2 percentage point margin of error.

The DCCC's Targeting and Analytics department surveyed 353 likely general election voters via live caller on Sept. 12. Twenty-two percent were undecided. 

[The Seats Democrats Must Win to Retake House]

Minnesota's 3rd District is a seat Democrats are hoping GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump will help them put in play. Trump's candidacy helped the DCCC convince Bonoff to get in the race after unsuccessfully courting her for several cycles.

The DCCC's polling memo says Bonoff took the lead just a week after the group's ad linking Paulsen to Trump went on the air. But the committee is not releasing prior polling to show where Bonoff started. 

The Bonoff campaign released its own memo on a late-June internal poll that did not include the initial matchup numbers between Bonoff and Paulsen. That poll, conducted by Victoria Research and Consulting, gave Democrats a 9-point advantage on a generic congressional ballot.

A more recent poll, conducted for the conservative American Action Network in early August by the Tarrance Group, showed Paulsen leading Bonoff 57 percent to 31 percent, with 12 percent of registered voters undecided.  

The DCCC's poll represents a huge swing from the Republican poll in just a month. 

"There's still time for House races to develop and for Democrats to make significant gains," said Roll Call Elections Editor Nathan Gonzales. "But it's unlikely that Paulsen dropped 15 or more points after one week of television ads."


"If this poll is accurate, and the Trump argument is that effective against an incumbent like Paulsen, Democrats will experience a November wave that makes 2006 look like a ripple," he added. 


[Ratings Change: 3 House Races Move Out of Safe


Netting the 30 seats necessary to win a House majority would require Democrats to flip suburban red districts like this one. The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call rates the contest as Republican Favored

President Barack Obama won this highly educated district under its present boundaries by 3 points in 2008 and by 1 point in 2012. But Paulsen easily carried the district by 16 points in the last presidential cycle.

With Trump at the top of the ticket, Democrats argue this isn't a normal election.

Paulsen's numbers, the DCCC poll memo stated, is evidence that "the Republican presidential nominee is sinking Republicans like Paulsen down the ballot." Hillary Clinton leads Trump by double digits, with over 60 percent of voters in the district having an unfavorable view of Trump, the memo said.

Paulsen still has a healthy cash-on-hand advantage over Bonoff. The congressman ended the pre-primary reporting period on July 20 with $3.2 million in the bank compared to Bonoff's $571,000.

Both candidates debuted their first ads this week. Paulsen released one positive spot and one attack on Bonoff for voting for tax increases. Bonoff's ad is a mostly positive biographical spot that doesn't mention Paulsen. But she concludes by saying, "We need to step up and stand up to Donald Trump."

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