Democrats say their polling shows GOP Rep. Paulsen in trouble

WASHINGTON – The campaign arm for U.S. House Democrats says new polling data show that the government shutdown could become a potent campaign issue against Republican 3rd District Rep. Erik Paulsen, who has evaded a serious Democratic challenger in the past two election cycles despite representing a swing district.

Several caveats before going further with this. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that has a strong interest in unseating Paulsen paid for the automated telephone poll, so take the results with a strong dose of skepticism.

Also, the party committee didn’t release the questions it used, which can significantly alter the outcome depending the wording. The poll also used a relatively small sample of 502 likely voters in Paulsen’s district, which produced a somewhat large 4.4 percent margin of error.

With those caveats in mind, the DCCC’s poll shows Paulsen trailing an unnamed Democratic challenger (also known in political circles as a “generic Democrat”) 37 to 43 percent, which is inside the margin of error but much closer than the 58 percent Paulsen drew against DFLer Brian Barnes last November even as 3rd District voters narrowly voted for President Barack Obama’s re-election over GOP challenger Mitt Romney.

Less ambiguously, voters disapproved of shutting the federal government down to defund the 2010 healthcare law by a 66 to 28 percent margin.

Voters said they were less likely to support Paulsen when told by pollsters that he was part of the House Republican caucus which has many members who pushed for the hardball tactics that led to a shutdown.

Paulsen’s office didn’t respond to requests for comments, but he has said he’s open to reopening the government without any policy concessions from Obama. Paulsen also told WCCO on Tuesday that he opposed the tactics used by some Senate Republicans, which in this case is code for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, to push for a shutdown.

No Democrat has yet entered the race against Paulsen and political handicappers currently rate the seat as safe for Paulsen. The DCCC will likely use the poll as part of its efforts to recruit a challenger. Paulsen also holds a major financial advantage over any potential DFL candidate. He raised $379,000 in the third quarter of 2013 and has more than $1.5 million in his war chest.