ST. PAUL (AP) -- A new poll taken before Sen. Paul Wellstone revealed that he has multiple sclerosis showed that the Democrat remained in a statistical dead heat with Republican Norm Coleman in their U.S. Senate race.
Forty-six percent of those who were surveyed said they favored Wellstone in his bid for a third term, while 42 percent favored Coleman, the former St. Paul mayor, according to the poll taken last week by the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
The poll of 625 registered voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Wellstone's announcement on Sunday that he has a mild form of multiple sclerosis should not hamper his standings, said Brad Coker, of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc., which conducted the poll.
"As long as there's no visible symptoms that it's impairing his ability to function, it shouldn't be an issue at all," said Coker, who has studied other races in which a candidate suffers from a chronic illness.
Coker said the poll is good news for Coleman backers.
"Anytime you have an incumbent elected official running under 50 percent, it's a clear sign of vulnerability," he said. "I think this is the third poll that we've done that Wellstone has failed to crack 50 percent."
However, the poll showed positive signs for Wellstone as well. Forty-eight percent have a positive impression of Wellstone, compared with 30 percent who view him unfavorably. The 18-point favorable margin is his largest in six polls of Minnesota voters dating from 1995.
Lilly Goren, who chairs the political science department at the College of St. Catherine, said Wellstone's illness likely will not have a big impact, particularly because it appears that Wellstone has been living with undiagnosed MS for the past 15 years -- longer than he's been a U.S. senator.
"Thirty years ago, it would get you in big trouble if it became public," Goren said. But nowadays, she added, "It appears, according to the news shows, that it's a mild case of MS, and it's not going to debilitate him."
Some Minnesota voters are still sorting through the impact.
Nancy Amerman, an attorney from Northfield who supports Coleman, wonders if "those who said they'd vote for Wellstone may not be as certain now. ... Having questions about whether he will physically be up to the job."
Marion Ekstrand, a retiree from Minneapolis who leans toward Coleman but thinks Wellstone has done a good job, has watched her cousin cope with the same disease.
"Multiple sclerosis does not usually affect the brain, so it won't affect his ability to be a senator, I don't think," she said.
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