Welcome to the Daily Digest.

Minnesota:

A former aide to Rep. Michele Bachmann’s presidential campaign pleaded guilty to federal charges stemming from his switch of supporting Bachmann to another before the 2012 caucuses. (AP via MPR News)

With a transportation funding shortfall looming, the Minnesota gubernatorial candidates disagree on how to pay for road repair. (MPR News)

A Green Party candidate stands to give Rep. Rick Nolan headaches and Republican Stewart Mills and edge. (MPR News)

PoliGraph says GOP gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson is overstating the results of two new polls. (MPR News)

Sen. Al Franken has a new ad that pushes back on criticism that he’s sided too many times with President Barack Obama. Al Franken “owes much of his success so far to his ability to forge alliances with Republican Senators,” the ad states, quoting a Star Tribune article from earlier this year.

Gov. Mark Dayton wants to know why train companies aren’t shipping grain faster. (Star Tribune)

Despite doubts, a Minneapolis city panel backs the Southwest light rail plan. (MPR News)

Washington:

A group of Democrat and Republican lawmakers want to vote on whether to give Obama authority to take action against ISIS. (The New York Times)

Obama’s decision on immigration rules could shift the outcome of this year’s midterm elections. (The Washington Post)

In other news…

If you’re like me, pretty much everyone you know has done the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge at this point. Are you wondering where all that money goes? (MPR News)

PoliGraph: MisleadingMark Twain once said that “there are three kinds of lies: Lies, damned lies and statistics.”

That quote applies to a recent statement made by Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson, who says two polls show he is within striking distance of Gov. Mark Dayton.

 “Mark Dayton is in trouble,” reads the headline of a recent Johnson press release. “These polls confirm that Mark Dayton is in trouble, and that I am in a great position with the general election campaign just underway.”

A separate post on Johnson’s Facebook page said “Mark Dayton is under 50%! We are only single digits away from victory!”

Dayton is in better shape than Johnson lets on.

The Evidence

The two most recent polls in the gubernatorial contest come from Rasmussen Reports and KSTP/SurveyUSA.

The Rasmussen poll has Dayton leading Johnson by eight percentage points, 49 percent to 41 percent.

The KSTP/SurveyUSA poll has similar results, giving Dayton a 9 percentage point lead over Johnson.

So, it’s true that Dayton is under 50 percent in both polls and that Johnson trailing him by single digits.

But pollster Rob Daves says Dayton’s lead is a solid one because Dayton is leading in most demographic groups. And according to the KSTP/Survey USA, Dayton has a lead in critical parts of the state, including the vote-rich Twin Cities area. (The Rasmussen poll did not provide information about where respondents live.)

There is good news for Johnson in these polls as well. For instance, Johnson has a lead among independent or undecided voters in both polls. Johnson’s campaign spokesman Gregg Peppin points out that the surveys show voters don’t view the state’s health insurance exchange and a new Senate office building favorably.

“Obviously campaigns matter, and it’s more than two months until election day, so things could change a lot,” said Daves, who is a principal at Daves & Associates Research.

Daves also points out that surveys are often used as a fundraising tool.

In fact, Dayton and Sen. Al Franken are using the same polls to raise cash.

“BREAKING POLL: Tea Partier Jeff Johnson is within single digits of Governor Mark Dayton, 40-49,” says a recent fundraising email from Dayton’s campaign. “Give now to help Gov. Dayton widen the gap before it’s too late!”

The Verdict

There’s truth to Johnson’s claim: Dayton is polling under 50 percent – barely – and Johnson is within single digits of Dayton – barely.

But is Dayton “in trouble” as Johnson states?

Not exactly. In addition to having an 8-to-9 percentage point lead over Johnson, Dayton is also polling well among key demographic groups and in key geographical areas.

For overstating the numbers, Johnson’s claim leans toward misleading.

Green Party candidate Ray Sandman. Sandman campaign Facebook page

With Democrats in Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District divided over mining, a little-known Green Party candidate has the potential to draw votes away from DFL Congressman Rick Nolan and help swing the race to Republican Stewart Mills.

Derek Montgomery / For MPR News

No one expects Green Party candidate Ray “Skip” Sandman to win the election.

But Sandman, who grew up on the Fond du Lac Reservation and most recently ran unsuccessfully for the Duluth City Council, strongly opposes copper-nickel mining in northern Minnesota.

He’s positioned himself as an alternative for disaffected Democrats who are disappointed that Nolan supports what’s known as sulfide mining, which some fear could pollute the region’s pristine water resources.

Republicans hope Sandman does well enough to give Mills an edge.

Sandman, who didn’t return calls, has said that opposition to mining is at the heart of his campaign.

“I’m not willing to gamble with the future generation’s life and drinking water for a few hundred jobs,” Sandman said in an interview with a Duluth TV station.

Iron Range blogger and Democrat Aaron Brown said the issue has put Nolan, who believes mining can be done without hurting the environment, in a politically difficult position. On one hand, he has to appease constituents who believe mining will create jobs. On the other, he has to reflect constituent concerns that mining is too environmentally risky.

Brown said Sandman’s view appeals to progressives, particularly in Duluth and parts of the district that rely on outdoor tourism.

“[Sandman] is a very pure representation of that left flank,” Brown said. “There is genuine frustration – you could even call it anger or outrage – by environmentalists with Rick Nolan over the issue of mining.”

Duluth resident John Doberstein is among Democrats who voted for Nolan in 2012 because he appeared to be neutral on mining. But Doberstein lost faith in Nolan when he voted for a bill that would streamline the mining permitting process.

Now, Doberstein is considering voting for Sandman — or sitting this election out.

“I don’t want [Mills] to be my congressman,” Doberstein said. “But I’m that passionate about [mining] and I’m willing to not place a vote and potentially hurt Rick Nolan’s chance of being reelected and losing to a Tea Party candidate.”

Sandman is running a bare bones campaign and hasn’t filed fundraising information with the Federal Election Commission.

But he nevertheless has the attention of DFL Party Chair Ken Martin.

“Having a green party candidate in the race suggests that that person is probably going to take more out of our hide than out of the Republican’s hide,” Martin said. “It’s not necessarily a good thing to have a Green Party candidate on the ballot.”

So far, Nolan campaign spokesman Kendall Killian says there’s no evidence that Sandman is a significant threat to Nolan’s campaign. And he said progressive voters are attracted to other aspects of Nolan’s record, including his opposition to wars abroad and on other environmental issues.

Republicans see opportunity in this political divide. For months, GOP candidates up and down the general election ticket, including Mills, have been making the case to Iron Range voters that copper nickel mining will revitalize the area’s economy.

Every vote Sandman takes from Nolan is a boost for Mills, said Minnesota’s Republican National Committeeman Chris Tiedeman.

“Rick Nolan has tried to have it both ways,” he said. “Neither side can have any confidence on where Rick Nolan will be if he’s re-elected.”