Franken slipping in the polls

With two weeks to go until Election Day, the exceptionally volatile and closely watched U.S. Senate race in Minnesota has tightened up, and comedian Al Franken’s lead is slipping.

The latest Star Tribune Minnesota Poll shows Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party candidate Franken at 39 percent to incumbent Republican Sen. Norm Coleman’s 36 percent. Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley was the choice of 18 percent of likely voters.

A Minnesota Poll two weeks ago showed Franken leading Coleman by nine percentage points. The new poll, conducted Thursday and Friday, sampled 1,049 likely voters and has an error margin of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.

Among the poll’s most interesting findings is the gender gap that has opened in Franken’s favor. Coleman has a slight, 3 percentage point lead among men, but Franken now has a potentially decisive nine-point lead among women.

Franken and Coleman have tussled hard over that demographic, with the DFLer’s campaign aiming a number of events in recent weeks specifically at female voters to counter Republican attack ads that attempt to portray Franken as a misogynist.

Franken also continues to run well behind Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, who holds a lead of 52 percent to 41 percent over Republican John McCain, according to the Minnesota Poll.

Part of the difference between the Senate and presidential polls is attributable to the presence of Barkley, who, despite a late entry and meager budget, has managed to get and keep a solid 18 percent of likely voters.

But even though Barkley has made a respectable showing, the depth of his support remains shallow, the poll shows. Only 18 percent of his supporters say they back him strongly, while 82 percent say they are less than firm in their support.

Because Barkley has drawn voters from both sides, even a slight erosion in his support could tilt the board toward Coleman or Franken in the waning days of the race.