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Franken has 13-point lead over McFadden; debate schedule set

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A new Star Tribune Minnesota Poll finds first-term Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken in a 13-point lead over his Republican challenger, Mike McFadden, 50 days before the midterm election.

In the poll released Monday, Franken has a 49 percent backing from likely voters, while 36 percent support McFadden. Eleven percent of the potential voters remain undecided.

The poll was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research Inc. Sept. 8-10 with 800 participants, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

While Franken's strongest backing is in the Twin Cities metro area, including Hennepin and Ramsey counties, McFadden leads in polling in the rest of the state. According to the poll, McFadden leads Franken 48 percent to 37 percent in greater Minnesota, while Independent Steve Carlson has the support of 4 percent of likely voters.

Up north, the Star Tribune says 55 percent of potential voters prefer McFadden, while a little over one-third back Franken. Five percent remain undecided.

Franken's lead in the Star Tribune Minnesota Poll is 4 to 5 percent higher than other recent polls, Real Clear Politics reports.

According to the blog, a poll by CBS News/New York Times/YouGov conducted Aug. 19-Sept. 2 showed Franken led McFadden by 8 percentage points, while a KSTP/Survey USA poll conducting Aug. 19-21 gave the incumbent a 9 percent lead. Franken also led McFadden by 8 percent in a Rasmussen Reports poll conducted Aug. 13-14.

Candidates agree to three debates

Franken and McFadden announced Monday they will debate three times before Election Day, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

This is the schedule:

-- Oct. 1, 8-9 a.m. at a Duluth News Tribune/Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce event in Duluth;

-- Oct. 26, 10-11 a.m. on WCCO-TV;

-- Nov. 2, 7-8 p.m. on Minnesota Public Radio.

According to the Star Tribune, McFadden asked Franken to meet for six debates, including more in greater Minnesota, but Franken insisted on three.

The two candidates already debated once in early August at the annual FarmFest trade show.

The newspaper says Franken's approval rating in the state is at 53 percent, while President Barack Obama's approval rating in Minnesota is at an all-time low of 40 percent.

Meanwhile, a Star Tribune Minnesota Poll released over the weekend finds Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton leading his Republican challenger, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, 45 percent to 33 percent.

The gubernatorial candidates have agreed to five debates; one them on Oct. 1 in Rochester is scheduled on the same day as one of the Senate debates.

Voters in Minnesota will become the first in the nation this week to cast early ballots, the Washington Post reports.

The Post says Minnesota's absentee balloting begins Friday, while voters in North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin can start the next day. Absentee voting starts in Iowa Sept. 25.

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