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Christopher Bjorke, Forum Communications, Published October 24 2012

Gulleson says race still in play

Pam Gulleson’s campaign said Wednesday the candidate is less than 10 points behind her opponent, contrary to a recent poll showing her trailing by 20 points in the race for the U.S. House of Representatives.

“I think it’s been widely shown that this poll has been discredited,” said campaign spokeswoman Hillary Price. “It’s so far off-base it’s not even worth using.”

Earlier Wednesday, Forum Communications released results of a poll projecting Democrat Gulleson trailing Republican Kevin Cramer with 32 percent of voters compared to his 52 percent.

While she did not give specific numbers, Price said the campaign’s own research showed a much closer race.

“We’ve got it down to the single digits,” she said.

“The undecideds in this race are going to be the determining factor,” Price said.

Cramer did not share the Gulleson campaign’s objections to the poll.

“It tracks quite closely to what our polling has been saying,” he said. “I thought the poll was fine.”

Essman Research of Des Moines, Iowa, polled 500 North Dakota residents between Oct. 12 and Oct. 15. Of the sample, 34.8 percent identified as Republicans, 19.4 percent as Democrats and 42.2 percent as independents. The largest age group sampled was between 46 and 65 years old. Women were 50.6 percent of the sample and men were 49.4 percent.

Price said the poll under-sampled Democrats, younger voters and women in the race for North Dakota’s open seat in the House. She also said it underestimated Cramer’s weaknesses in a race in which 15 percent of voters were undecided.

She expected younger, Democratic-leaning voters and women to vote in greater numbers than are represented in the poll’s sample. The potential of a woman holding the state’s House seat for the first time would increase turnout by female supporters.

While the poll found that many respondents were undecided in the election, Cramer said voters were moving toward him.

“There’s a very strong core who are committed to me,” he said. “The later it gets, the more undecideds tend to break toward me.”

Critics have said Demo-crats’ 19 percent share of the poll under-represents the party’s share of the state’s population. Past elections have shown Democrats getting at least a quarter of the vote.

Cramer said he believes the poll’s large sample of Republicans simply showed the state leaned strongly toward the GOP.

UND Political Science Professor Mark Jendrysik said that regardless of whether the sample was flawed, Cramer probably benefited from being the Republican in a race that has been overshadowed by the high-profile Senate race between Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D., and former state Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat.

The Senate race, by attracting more national money and attention than past contests here, has “sucked the oxygen” from other races, Jendrysik said. With voters paying less attention to the House race, they are more likely to vote on party lines.

“He’s a Republican, and that’s going to give him a built-in advantage,” Jendrysik said.

Over the next two weeks, Gulleson will focus on linking Cramer to far-right positions and highlighting Gulleson’s endorsement by retired Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D, Price said.

“We think this race is winnable,” she said.

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Christopher Bjorke writes for the Grand Forks Herald