MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Minnesotans are divided nearly evenly in the presidential race between Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush, according to a poll published Thursday.
The Star Tribune Minnesota Poll shows 42 percent of the state's likely voters favor Gore, while 40 percent support Bush -- basically a tie since the poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
The results are surprising given Minnesota has voted Democratic in the past six presidential elections. And there's more bad news for Gore: The poll shows that Bush leads among independents, who make up a fifth of Minnesota's likely voters.
In Minnesota and nationwide, those independents are the biggest prize for both candidates as they try to expand their bases of support. Political analysts say Gore underscored that by traveling to Minnesota this week for a visit with Gov. Jesse Ventura.
While spokesmen for both parties spun the poll results in predictable ways, Minnesota political analyst Chris Gilbert called them ''bad news for the vice president -- though not fatal news.''
''Given Minnesota's presidential track record, Gore should be doing a lot better here,'' said Gilbert, who chairs the political science department at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter. ''This was a state that he shouldn't have had to sweat a lot.''
Gore spokesman Chris Lehane said Thursday morning that the campaign is not putting much emphasis on the poll results because only about 15 percent of the electorate is paying attention to the race now.
''We're fighting all over the country, including Minnesota, for every single vote,'' Lehane said.
Some recent nationwide polls also show the race is nearly a dead heat, with some showing Bush holding a whisker-thin lead.
At this point in the 1992 campaign, the Minnesota Poll showed that Democratic challenger Bill Clinton had a 19-point lead over President George Bush. Four years later, Clinton enjoyed an even bigger lead -- 24 points -- over Sen. Bob Dole. Clinton went on to win the state handily both times.
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