Good morning, and welcome to Monday and the start of a fresh work week. There’s a lot to talk about so let’s go right to the Digest.

1. New poll shows Klobuchar with big lead, Smith with smaller lead.  Democrats Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith are leading their Republican challengers in the race for the U.S. Senate, but Smith is in a much tighter contest in an unexpected special election, according to the latest MPR News/Star Tribune Minnesota Poll.  Smith leads Republican nominee Karin Housley 47-41 percent in the race for her seat in the Senate, according to the poll of 800 likely voters. That’s a 1-percentage point gain for Housley since the last Minnesota Poll in September. Of those polled, though, 10 percent said they are still undecided and 2 percent said they plan to vote for another candidate. That means the race could still swing either way on Nov. 6. Klobuchar leads her Republican opponent Jim Newberger 56-33 percent. The poll of 800 likely voters also shows 52 percent said they think it is the responsibility of the federal government to ensure all Americans have health care insurance. Of those polled, 40 percent said it’s not the government’s responsibility, while 8 percent were unsure. And an overwhelming 70 percent of respondents said they support proposals letting people buy in to public health insurance programs including Medicare and MinnesotaCare, which Democrats like Smith are pitching on the campaign trail. The poll, conducted by Mason Dixon Polling & Strategy between Oct. 15-17, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. (MPR News)

2. The poll also shows the governor’s race tightening but Tim Walz still in the lead. Democrat Tim Walz leads in the race to be Minnesota’s next governor, but Republican Jeff Johnson has gained ground with about two weeks until Election Day, according to the latest MPR News/Star Tribune Minnesota Poll. A survey of 800 likely voters shows Walz leading Johnson 45-39 percent. In September the Minnesota Poll showed Walz with a 9-point lead. And the latest poll shows there are still enough undecided voters to swing the race either way on Nov. 6. Twelve percent of respondents said they were unsure of who they will vote for in the race. That’s down from 16 percent who were undecided in September. One key issue for the next governor — a possible transportation tax hike — doesn’t entirely track the candidate results. Walz supports a higher gas tax; Johnson is against it. A majority of respondents in the poll — 56 percent — are on board with a 10-cent increase to the per-gallon tax to pay for road and bridge projects.  The support was consistent around the state and robust among Democrats and self-identified independents.  (MPR News)

3. Walz and Johnson debate on TV. KSTP-TV held a marathon day of debates Sunday. About the only major party candidate who didn’t show up was DFL U.S. Senate candidate Tina Smith. During their hourlong debate, Johnson played the aggressor although Walz gave it back to his rival at times. As he has throughout his campaign, Johnson said tax increases are off the table for specific initiatives or to salvage a state budget if the economy falters. “I’m not going to raise taxes, I’ve made that very clear,” Johnson said, adding that Minnesota could extract budget savings by more closely policing public health and welfare programs to weed out people who shouldn’t be eligible, scrapping a state insurance exchange for the federal version and auditing other programs to determine which aren’t working properly. Walz said he won’t let Minnesota fall back into a cycle of accounting shifts that paper over problems or push the state burden down the line. He supports a gas tax increase for transportation. “I’m not willing to not invest where we need to,” he said. Johnson said Walz “has promised the world to everybody” but hasn’t been as clear about what other taxes might rise to cover the costs. (MPR News) (KSTP)

4. AG debate is combative session. It was a brawl from start to finish in the only head-to-head debate between the two contenders for Minnesota attorney general. During their KSTP TV debate Sunday night, Democratic U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison and former GOP state Rep. Doug Wardlow repeatedly labeled the other as too extreme to be the state’s top lawyer. They went after each other on the role of the attorney general, the abuse allegations which Ellison again denied, who would politicize the office and each other’s records. (MPR News)

5. Both parties eye key races in battle for control of Minnesota House. Democrats are in a good position to pick up seats in the Minnesota House of Representatives on Election Day, but face a steep climb to flip the chamber from Republican control. House leaders of both parties are predictably upbeat about their chances of winning a majority of seats. “We think we have a very good chance of taking it back,” House DFL Minority Leader Melissa Hortman said. But House Republican Speaker Kurt Daudt said he’s “very confident” his party will prevail, in part because “we aren’t just on defense. We are on offense in quite a few districts.” History may be on Hortman’s side. Midterm elections are almost never good for the president’s party, and this election is likely to be a referendum on President Trump, whose approval ratings are low in recent polls. (Pioneer Press)

It was a brawl from start to finish in the only head-to-head debate between the two contenders for Minnesota attorney general.

During their KSTP TV debate Sunday night, Democratic U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison and former GOP state Rep. Doug Wardlow repeatedly labeled the other as too extreme to be the top lawyer.

Here were some key moments:

Role of the attorney general

Ellison and Wardlow had several intense exchanges over how active the attorney general should be in promoting or opposing changes to law.

Ellison said Minnesota’s attorney general should sound off on pressing matters before lawmakers, from health care to gun legislation.

Wardlow insisted that the job is limited to enforcing and defending enacted laws. He fell back on that position as an argument for withholding his personal view on broad marijuana legalization, labor laws and other topics.

“The job of the attorney general is not to weigh in and make laws. But Keith Ellison apparently thinks it is. If you wanted to make laws you should have stayed in Congress,” Wardlow told Ellison.

Ellison said it is “absurd” to argue the office remains on the sidelines at the Capitol during policy deliberations.

“This idea Mr. Wardlow doesn’t have any views on anything is simply not the case,” Ellison said. “It is very clear he has a policy agenda. He just does not want to say what it is. And I think it’s fair for the people to know.”

Abuse allegations

Since August, Ellison has faced relentless questions over allegations he abused an ex-girlfriend a couple of years ago.

While Ellison has denied harming her, Wardlow has seized on it to raise doubts about Ellison’s character.

“This is absolutely a legitimate issue for the voters to consider,” Wardlow said.

Ellison said he has cooperated with an inquiry into the allegations. A law firm with connections to the DFL Party said the allegation couldn’t be substantiated.

“It is wrong to politicize a tragic situation like this and I think it is absolutely improper for this to become a political football and a weapon in this election,” Ellison said.

He said Republicans are holding him to a different standard than they did President Trump, who faced sexual harassment allegations during his presidential run.

“President Trump is not on the ballot here. Keith Ellison is and he wants to be our state’s top cop,” Wardlow said.

Who is more political

Wardlow sought to clarify comments he made at a private fundraiser about replacing 42 Democratic lawyers in the office with Republicans as soon as he takes over.

The office, which has been held by DFLers for nearly a half century, is made up of civil servants and political appointees.

“We can’t take the politics out of the office unless we make some changes,” Wardlow said, arguing his remarks were taken out of context. “I will make some changes, but I am not going to use party as a litmus test.”

Ellison didn’t buy the explanation. 

“Time after time after time he has been accusing me of what he’s doing, which is politicizing the office,” he said. “I would be glad to hire any Republican or Independent who are going to throw down and fight hard every single day for Minnesotans.”

Ellison raised Wardlow’s work for a conservative legal group that has defended business clients fighting government policies requiring that they serve same-sex couples. Wardlow stood by his work with Alliance Defending Freedom as standing for First Amendment rights not discrimination. 

Wardlow said Ellison’s standing as deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee makes him the more political of the two.

“He wants to use this office to wage a political war,” Wardlow said.

In their first prime-time televised debate Sunday night, Minnesota’s DFL and Republican nominees for governor sharply engaged over taxes, wage laws, immigration and more.

With two weeks before the votes are counted, Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Walz leads Republican Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson by 6 percentage points, according to a new MPR News/Star Tribune Minnesota Poll. But Johnson has made up ground in recent weeks and there are enough undecided voters up for grabs to keep the race competitive.

During their hourlong debate broadcast statewide on KSTP and its affiliate stations, Johnson played the aggressor although Walz gave it back to his rival at times.

Here are five notable exchanges:

Minnesota’s fiscal direction

As he has throughout his campaign, Johnson said tax increases are off the table for specific initiatives or to salvage a state budget if the economy falters.

“I’m not going to raise taxes, I’ve made that very clear,” Johnson said, adding that Minnesota could extract budget savings by more closely policing public health and welfare programs to weed out people who shouldn’t be eligible, scrapping a state insurance exchange for the federal version and auditing other programs to determine which aren’t working properly.

Walz said he won’t let Minnesota fall back into a cycle of accounting shifts that paper over problems or push the state burden down the line. He supports a gas tax increase for transportation.

“I’m not willing to not invest where we need to,” he said.

Johnson said Walz “has promised the world to everybody” but hasn’t been as clear about what other taxes might rise to cover the costs.

“Let’s be responsible with other people’s money rather than promise the world to everyone and then figure it out later,” Johnson said.

Walz said Johnson’s portrayal of rampant spending without proper accountability amounted to fear-mongering.

“It’s two different visions of Minnesota: One that tells you what we can’t do and one that tells you what to fear,” he said. “The other tells you what we do and do together and how we grow.”

Minimum wage

The push by some large Minnesota’s to boost their minimum wage to $15 an hour hasn’t been a front-and-center topic for the governor’s race.

But both candidates were asked if the state should step in — either to raise the minimum wage across Minnesota or stop the cities from doing it on their own.

Walz said the state should boost the minimum wage, currently at $9.65 an hour for most employers.

“I also respect local entities. If the state is going to be paralyzed they need to do what is right for folks,” he said. “The economy grows. The best stimulus plan in the world is extra money in a middle-class person’s pocket.”

Johnson said the minimum wage is a state-level discussion because local differences in the mandated pay level will cause problems for Minnesota’s economy and cause hardship for small employers.

“I would support pre-emption there,” he said, using the term by which the state would bar cities from going beyond the statewide minimum workplace requirements.

But Johnson said he wouldn’t use that approach for all locally adopted policies that have drawn scorn from some at the Legislature. He said cities that regulate what kind of packaging is allowed at restaurants and retailers.

“I might think that’s stupid. But it’s not my job as governor to say the city of Minneapolis can’t do stupid things,” Johnson said. “But if it has an effect on the entire state, the state should be setting it.”

Trade tariffs

President Trump’s standoff with some of America’s largest trading partners have prompted tariffs and retaliatory tariffs, some of which have caused strain in farm country.

While Minnesota’s governor has a limited role in international trade — other than promoting home-state goods on the world stage — there could be some political fallout from the tariff battle nonetheless.

Johnson, who carries Trump’s endorsement, said he breaks with his fellow Republican on the topic and would press him to quickly calm the trade waters.

“I believe we should be encouraging trade as opposed to encouraging barriers,” Johnson said. “If this lasts much longer, we have farmers who are just getting killed by this. And it’s not the way to go.”

Walz piled on, calling the trade policies “horrific.” But he resisted the opening to tie Johnson to his party’s top figure, instead drawing differences with Johnson about the state’s investment in higher education research that can improve agriculture efficiency.

“So that if we have a boneheaded decision made from the administration we are able to weather that because of the work our folks did,” Walz said.

Immigration

A tense divide over how welcoming Minnesota should be to people from other countries simmers on the political front.

Johnson has called for a pause in refugees bound for Minnesota communities and a harder line against immigrants in the country without proper authorization. Johnson said he would seek federal approval for a refugee resettlement moratorium until officials can get a better handle on costs and impact on local social services.

“Right now we have a lot of questions so we want to end our participation at least for now until we figure this out,” he said.

Walz said Minnesota has a proud immigrant heritage and warned of risk if it creates an unwelcome environment.

“Minnesota’s past, Minnesota’s present and Minnesota’s future is dependent on immigration,” he said. “It is dependent on us being seen where you can not just find refuge from war and terror. But you can go through the process to get here and live the American dream.”

The two also clashed over whether local police should be expected to inquire about immigration status of people they interact with and empower them to alert federal officials to possible violations. Johnson said restricting those things — sometimes referred to as sanctuary policies — is the wrong way to go. “We would be a magnet,” Johnson said.

Walz said Minnesota law enforcement has a different role than federal immigration authorities but that doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to lawbreakers. “If you do a violent crime, regardless of your status in any way, you are going to go to prison,” Walz said.

Mining and pipelines

Minnesota Democrats have faced internal strife over proposed mining and oil pipeline projects, which could lead to more jobs but create environmental risks.

Republicans, including Johnson, are trying to capitalize by strongly advocating for regulatory approval of some controversial projects. Johnson said as governor he would aim to move them along, “not throw up new politically motivated roadblocks as we have seen from this administration, not creating shortcuts for them either.”

“Those are all the private sector creating good jobs for people who are desperate for good jobs right now,” Johnson said.

Walz said he and Johnson “are not too far off” on the projects, which include the Polymet copper-nickel mine on the Iron Range. He said it’s important that there are financial safeguards for the state if things don’t go well or remediation is required.

“What is missed in this is pitting one group against another,” Walz said. “To be very clear, the folks who do this mining they care deeply about clean water. And the folks who care about the clean water care deeply about the jobs and the growth that are there.”

On pipelines, Walz said he’d make sure there is consensus in the planning to head off problems. Johnson saw that as a dodge.

“I still don’t know where you are on Line 3,” he said, referring to a replacement and rerouting project that has stoked protests amid the regulatory review.

Walz left it there.