ST. PAUL (AP) -- Ralph Nader's support in Minnesota is rising, slicing into Democrat Al Gore's base and leaving Gore and Republican George W. Bush about even in the state, according to a statewide poll released Wednesday.
The poll shows Gore with 44 percent and Bush with 41 percent, within the poll's 4-point margin of error. That's a tighter race than pollsters saw here a month ago, and it's due partly to rising support for Green Party candidate Nader, who now has 8 percent.
"The one thing you can say is, it's volatile," said Brad Coker, who conducted the poll for the Saint Paul Pioneer Press, KARE-TV and Minnesota Public Radio. "Bush was ahead at one point, Gore was way ahead at another. Now it's within the margin and it's close, so who knows?"
The poll of 625 likely Minnesota voters was conducted last Thursday and Friday by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research. The tightness of the race, both here and nationally, had made Minnesota a critical state in the presidential campaign.
The poll results also show:
--Among Minnesota women, Gore holds a 14-point advantage, 49-35. But among men, Bush holds a 7-point advantage, 46-39. Nader does better among men (9 percent) than women (6 percent).
--Geographically, Bush is leading in the western half of Minnesota, but Gore does much better in the state's more populated eastern half. In the Twin Cities region, Gore holds a 46-39 lead, with Nader at 7 percent.
--Bush's personal popularity has risen in the past month, and is now on par with Gore's. Gore's unfavorable ratings have also risen in the past month, and more Minnesotans (37 percent) now view him unfavorably than view Bush unfavorably (33 percent).
--The number of undecided voters has shrunk to 6 percent. Women are more likely than men to be undecided, 9 percent to 4 percent.
A poll released last week by St. Cloud State University put Gore at 39 percent, Bush at 38 percent and Nader 10 percent. The margin of error in that poll was plus or minus 4 percentage points.
What's making Minnesota unpredictable, Coker says, is partly Nader's popularity in Democratic strongholds. Nader's support in Minnesota grew from 4 percent to 8 percent in the past month, the latest poll shows. It's even higher in northeastern Minnesota, including the Iron Range, where resentment over steel imports and free-trade policies has boosted Nader to 11 percent. Nader's running mate, Winona LaDuke, lives on the White Earth Reservation near Bemidji.
"Nader's rising, and that's come out of Gore's column a little bit," Coker said. "It's a combination of environmental voters and anti-trade union supporters."
That's what Stan Daniels of Hibbing, political director for the United Steelworkers of America, sees: "To get that many people going for Nader, it's got to be the trade issue."
But if the election truly is a cliffhanger, Daniels said, "I think the people up here that are supporting Nader will come back to Gore -- I hope they will."
Not all will. One poll participant was Nader supporter Gordon Stearns, a retiree from the northwestern Minnesota town of Lengbe, near Bemidji.
"My vote is to finally tell those two parties that we're sick and tired of 'em," Stearns said. "It's a vote against the establishment."
Lois Jedlicka of Eden Prairie, a poll respondent, is among those planning to vote for Bush. "I think the Bush name is a good name, which was very good during his father's administration, and I think he's a chip off the old block."
Marlene Jeffers, a retiree from Bloomington, plans to vote for Gore. "I just like what he has been talking about, his ideas," she said. "I like that better than what Bush has had to say."
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