Barkley Slips Into the Picture

Posted October 6, 2008 at 6:42pm

Is the “Dean of the Senate” staging a comeback?

It appears that former Minnesota Sen. Dean Barkley (I) has a chance to get elected to the Senate on the Independence Party ticket in November — or at least drastically affect the results of one of the most hotly contested races in the country.

Two recent polls have shown Barkley edging close to 20 percent of the vote, but it’s unclear whether he is taking more votes away from Sen. Norm Coleman (R) or comedian Al Franken (D).

What’s more, the man appointed by former Gov. Jesse Ventura (I) to serve out the remainder of the late Sen. Paul Wellstone’s (D) term in the last few weeks of 2002 and engineered Ventura’s improbable victory in 1998 is boasting that he has higher survey numbers than his former boss polled before he won his gubernatorial bid.

In a Minneapolis Star-Tribune poll of 1,084 likely voters, Franken received 43 percent, Coleman received 34 percent and Barkley took in 18 percent. The monthly poll, performed by Princeton Survey Research Associates Sept. 30-Oct. 2, had a margin of error of 3.7 points. But in an automated SurveyUSA poll of 725 likely voters, Barkley did even better. Coleman took 43 percent of the vote, Franken had 33 percent and Barkley had 19 percent. That poll, taken Sept. 30-Oct. 1 for a local television station, had a margin of error of 3.7 points.

Both polls showed a 5 percent increase for Barkley from a month earlier. However, the Star-Tribune poll showed that 49 percent of Barkley’s supporters leaned toward Coleman, versus 33 percent for Franken. The SurveyUSA poll showed Coleman receiving 83 percent of Republican support, versus 65 percent of Democratic support for Franken — evidence that Barkley could be stripping votes from the Democrat.

If you ask Barkley, he thinks his support is from disaffected Republicans, especially in light of the raging economic crisis.

“I appear to be taking a little more support from Coleman than I’m taking from Franken,” Barkley said in a phone interview Monday.

Barkley recalled when he was campaigning at the Minnesota State Fair in late August, more conservatives approached him about their anger with Coleman than Democrats disaffected with Franken. He said the recent economic crisis might be to blame.

“It surprised me,” Barkley said. “I didn’t expect that.”

Because his campaign has no pollster, Barkley could not offer numerical support for his claim. But he pointed to Ventura, who he said never polled more than 27 percent in his race, as proof. Ventura defeated Coleman, who was then the mayor of St. Paul, and a Democratic candidate by a small margin in 1998.

“I think I’m in a better position now than Ventura was 10 years ago to win this,” Barkley said.

Ventura recently cut two radio advertisements for Barkley, one of which targets Coleman. Though Franken is briefly mentioned in the spot, the ad accuses Coleman of presiding over a federal deficit increase during his tenure.

However, ex-Rep. Tim Penny, a former Democrat who supports Barkley, said he sees Barkley’s surge in support a result of Democrats who are not happy with Franken.

“At the moment, [he pulls] more from Democrats,” Penny said. “But he has the potential to draw relatively equally. And if you look back to 1998 when Ventura won, there’s evidence that he probably hurt the Democrat more than the Republican in that race.”

But Penny, who lost an Independence Party bid to succeed Ventura in 2002, said Barkley must pull from both sides in order to win the Senate seat.

Minnesota has a history of being amenable to third-party candidates. Aside from Ventura’s win, Independent presidential candidate Ross Perot received 24 percent in 1992 and Penny was leading in public polls for a time during his 2002 bid.

Penny said that once an Independence Party candidate shows more than 20 percent in public polls, voters won’t think they’re wasting their votes anymore.

“Just watch the poll numbers,” Penny said. “My sense if there’s one more poll and he creeps into the low 20s, we’re off to the races.”

As for the two major-party candidates, both campaigns stayed mum about whether they had seen their support go to Barkley.

A memo from Coleman campaign pollster Glen Bolger on Monday reasoned that the Star-Tribune poll oversampled Democrats in the survey. According to Bolger, a similar Star-Tribune poll from Sept. 15 surveyed 13 percent fewer Democrats.

“Based on our own internal polling, as well as the trend averages of public polls over the past month, it is my opinion that we hold a narrow, but statistically significant lead going into the final weeks of the campaign,” Bolger wrote in the memo.

Meanwhile, the Franken campaign wouldn’t say whether it had seen its support go to Barkley. Franken spokeswoman Colleen Murray said, however, that the campaign takes Barkley seriously. “Dean Barkley is a serious candidate, and this race is coming down to being about change versus more of the same,” Murray said.