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Published May 18 2012

Though trailing in poll, Kalk says Cramer ‘right where we want him’ in GOP House race

FARGO – The top three candidates vying for North Dakota’s U.S. House seat offered mixed reviews today of a Forum Communications Co. poll that found the two Republicans with a sizeable advantage in the contest.

Democrat Pam Gulleson criticized the poll as “deeply flawed,” while Republicans Kevin Cramer and Brian Kalk were pleased with the poll’s snapshot of the competitive race.

Six months before the general election, the Forum poll of 500 likely voters found either Kalk or Cramer would be likely to win over Gulleson.

In the June 12 primary contest, though, a large proportion of Republican voters are undecided between Cramer and Kalk, the endorsed candidate.

According to the poll, 38 percent of likely Republican primary voters planned to vote for Cramer, 25 percent said they’d support Kalk and 37 percent were undecided with one month to go before the primary.

The primary will determine which Republican takes on Gulleson in the November general election.

Essman/Research of Des Moines, Iowa, conducted the telephone survey May 3 to May 8. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

Gulleson’s campaign sought to discredit the poll because likely primary voters were asked to weigh in on general election scenarios.

That’s the same criticism national and state Democrats had Thursday, when a Forum Communications poll of the U.S. Senate contest showed Republican Rep. Rick Berg leading Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, 51 percent to 44 percent, with 5 percent undecided.

Several national analysts said the Senate poll was an accurate reflection of that race, but at least one had concerns about the poll’s methodology.

Forum Communications’ poll on the House race today found Cramer with a nearly 3-to-1 advantage over Gulleson.

Cramer had 61 percent of the support from likely voters, while Gulleson had 23 percent. Fifteen percent were undecided.

In the alternative scenario, Kalk lead Gulleson, 48 percent to 31 percent, with 21 percent undecided.

“It’s truly absurd that The Forum is claiming that this already-debunked poll has any relevance to the general election,” Gulleson’s campaign manager Luke Quandt said today. “This poll fails basic tests for statistical accuracy, and it’s irresponsible for The Forum to claim otherwise.”

Quandt said Forum Communications’ poll doesn’t reflect the campaign’s private polling.

“We have this pegged as a very tight race, and we’re happy with where we’re at,” Quandt said. “The Gulleson campaign is doing everything we need to be doing. It’s a tough race.”

Gulleson was traveling today and wasn’t available for an interview with The Forum.

Meanwhile, Cramer and Kalk said they were pleased with the results of the poll.

“It tracks nearly identically to our polling,” Cramer said. “It’s encouraging to know some validation to what we’re finding.”

While the poll found him ahead, Cramer said he plans to stick to his “very disciplined” strategy to win the June 12 GOP primary.

Cramer said his campaign’s “get-out-the-vote” plan is mostly targeting absentee voters by phone and mail. He is also appearing at private events, such as fundraisers and meetings with businesses leaders to talk about the issues.

The Forum Communications poll found Kalk trailing Cramer by more than 10 points with one month left in the primary race, and Kalk said of Cramer: “We’ve got him right where we want him.”

Kalk cited his success winning the North Dakota Republican Party’s endorsement in a close battle where undecided delegates ultimately determined the outcome.

Kalk beat out four competitors during three ballots at the state convention April 1. In an unprecedented move, Cramer didn’t participate in the traditional party process.

As each ballot was cast, Kalk led the field by a widening margin, and it’s that strategy that Kalk says will help him win on June 12.

Kalk aims to sway the 37 percent of Republican primary voters who were undecided in the Forum Communications poll.

“We’re running a fully integrated campaign,” Kalk said. “We’re going to win this thing.”

Kalk said he’s been crisscrossing the state and meeting personally with Republican voters. He also plans to launch radio and TV ads in the coming days.

In terms of the edge the poll found them having over Gulleson, both Kalk and Cramer expressed cautious optimism.

“November is a long time away,” Kalk said. “A lot will change by that time.”

National media outlets offer predictions similar to the poll results. Many analysts say North Dakota’s seat seems to be reasonably safe in Republican hands this year.

However, The Washington Post recently named North Dakota’s House race as its most likely to surprise because of its competitiveness – specifically noting Gulleson’s strong campaign so far.

Libertarian Eric Olson, of Fargo, is also seeking North Dakota’s U.S. House seat this year. He was not included in the poll.