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Poll: McCain turns even race into 14 point lead in ND

BISMARCK - Sen. John McCain leads Sen. Barack Obama by 14 percentage points in North Dakota, a national polling firm said this week.

The same company, Rasmussen Reports, has Gov. John Hoeven in position to swamp his opponent, Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, 68 percent to 28 percent.

Polling for the presidential and gubernatorial races was conducted in North Dakota on Monday in phone calls to 500 likely voters. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

Rasmussen's poll showed 55 percent of North Dakotans favor McCain for president to Obama's 41 percent, with 3 percent unsure and 1 percent favoring "other."

In early July, a Rasmussen poll showed the two men tied.

McCain leads by 22 points among independents. In July, Rasmussen said, Obama had a 10-point advantage among independents in the state.

Also among North Dakota voters, 67 percent have a favorable or very favorable view of McCain and 30 percent had an unfavorable or very unfavorable view of the Republican candidate. Some 52 percent have a favorable or very favorable view of Obama, and 46 percent have an unfavorable or very unfavorable view of the Democrat.

North Dakota spokesmen for the McCain and Obama campaigns declined to comment on the results.

Rasmussen also asked North Dakotans about their views of President Bush's performance. Twenty percent called it excellent, 21 percent good, 19 percent fair and 39 percent poor.

In the gubernatorial race, Rasmussen found Hoeven leading Mathern 69 percent to 28 percent among men and 66 percent to 29 percent among women. Hoeven also leads among unaffiliated voters by 69 to 25 percent and has support from 36 percent of Democrats.

Hoeven gets good or excellent marks for his performance from 73 percent of the voters, "making him one of the most popular governors in the country," and he is viewed favorably by 78 percent of voters and unfavorably by 18 percent, Rasmussen said.

Mathern's ratings are 43 percent favorable and 42 percent unfavorable.

Rasmussen conducts its polls with automated phone calls, in which respondents use their phone keypad to answer the pollsters' pre-recorded questions. Such polls are illegal under North Dakota's tough do-not-call law, unless an actual person seeks and gets the respondents' approval before playing a recorded questions or message.

The Rasmussen calls are not preceded by a person who seeks the respondents' approval before the questioning begins.

Scott Rasmussen, Rasmussen Reports' president, said Thursday that "this is the first we've heard of this" law. Otherwise, he said, the firm places its calls in accordance with the Federal Communications Commission laws and other "known laws."

North Dakota's do-not-call law bars all so-called "robocalls," whether from telemarketers, political organizations or pollsters.

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said the office has not received a complaint about the Rasmussen calls and would not pursue action without a complaint.

In January 2004, Stenehjem declared robocalls from Democratic presidential candidate Gen. Wesley Clark to North Dakotans illegal and got a signed agreement from the campaign that it would halt the practice.

Cole works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. She can be reached at (701) 224-0830 or