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Published October 28 2010

Poll: Berg, Pomeroy in dead heat

With five days to go, Democratic Rep. Earl Pomeroy and Republican Rick Berg remain in a dead heat in their pursuits for victory at the polls Tuesday.

A recent media poll of North Dakota’s U.S. House race finds the longtime incumbent just one percentage point ahead.

Pomeroy had 45 percent of likely voters’ support, while Berg had 44 percent, according to the poll released Wednesday by The Hill, a Washington, D.C., newspaper.

Nine percent said they were still undecided – a factor that could influence what’s become the closest congressional race North Dakota has seen in years.

The Hill’s poll was conducted by Penn Schoen Berland, a consulting firm that administered polls in 41 other competitive districts nationwide.

The firm surveyed 398 likely North Dakota voters by telephone Oct. 16-19.

The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points – a reflection of the virtual tie between the candidates.

While there are positive findings amid the results for both candidates, only Pomeroy’s campaign praised The Hill’s poll.

“We’ve known for months this is a close race,” Pomeroy spokesman Brenden Timpe said. “Earl has some momentum going, and it shows that his message is resonating.”

Berg’s campaign discounted The Hill’s findings and accused Penn Schoen Berland of having a partisan bias, since the firm served as the pollster for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential bid.

Campaign spokesman Tom Nelson said, “I don’t think (Berg) needs to comment on a poll from Hillary Clinton’s pollster.”

However, the firm’s website indicates it has worked with Republican clients, too, such as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Democrats nationwide are bracing for potentially major losses Tuesday, as many political observers predict Republicans could make sizable gains in the U.S. House.

Uniquely among his endangered colleagues, though, Pomeroy’s incumbency seems to be beneficial, The Hill’s poll showed.

On a question about Pomeroy’s years in office, 45 percent said experience would be a reason to vote for him, while 35 percent said it’s a reason to vote against him.

The poll also found the two candidates were equally favorable to likely voters – but Pomeroy was measurably more unfavorable than Berg.

“The race is close, and Earl is a point ahead,” Timpe said. “One of the key questions in this race is: Who’s the best to deliver for North Dakota? Clearly, that’s Earl.”

Nelson gave no credence to the specific findings, saying, “I don’t think we’re going to get in the business of analyzing this.”

Rather, Berg’s campaign cited their candidate’s continuous advantage in each monthly poll since February from pollster Rasmussen Reports – including a lead of 10 percentage points found in this month’s poll, which was conducted at the same time as The Hill’s.

However, until last week, Rasmussen had been the only pollster to quantify North Dakota’s U.S. House race. But, the way the group conducts its polls tends to lean results in favor of conservatives, according to analysis by FiveThirtyEight.

The Hill’s poll marks the only official statistical survey of the race by an independent media organization yet this year. Generally, many national political observers gauge the race as a “toss-up.”

The only other independent poll available is one conducted by a coalition of weekly newspapers in rural North Dakota. The “Prairie Poll” released last week had Pomeroy ahead by 10 points in the race, but the poll’s results did not meet statistical standards.

Nelson also denounced The Hill’s polling since it was “not consistent with our internal polling.”

The campaign released poll numbers Wednesday after a request from The Forum.

Public Opinion Strategies, which calls itself the largest Republican polling firm in the country, found this week almost identical results as the recent Rasmussen poll.

Nelson didn’t explain why the results from Rasmussen and Berg’s internal poll differed so greatly from The Hill’s.

In September, Pomeroy’s campaign released results of polling they’d done throughout the campaign, indicating Pomeroy held a slight advantage over Berg.


Other key findings

- 93 percent of North Dakotans polled said they were “passionate” about voting this election year.

- 53 percent said they disapproved of the job President Barack Obama has done while in office, compared to 43 percent who approved.

- 68 percent said their feelings about Obama were important in how they planned to vote in North Dakota’s U.S. House race.

- 66 percent disapproved of the job Congress has done, compared to 28 percent approving.

- 73 percent said they’d voted for Democratic incumbent Earl Pomeroy in a previous election.

Source: The Hill 2010 Midterm Election Poll in North Dakota. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points


Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541