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Viewpoint: Political Notebook: McCain could win Minnesota

John McCain is the only Republican who could beat the two leading Democratic presidential candidates in Minnesota, a recently released poll shows.

SurveyUSA reports that the Arizona Republican senator would beat New York Sen. Hillary Clinton 49 percent to 44 percent if the election were held today. And he would edge Illinois Sen. Barack Obama 49 percent to 42 percent.

The poll -- sponsored by Duluth, Twin Cities and Rochester television stations -- shows Obama would beat other leading Republicans by anywhere from 6 percentage points to 19 points. Clinton would beat other GOP hopefuls by 8 points or 9 points, SurveyUSA says.

E85 use up

Minnesota government's use of corn-based E85 fuel doubled in 2007.

In a regular report on fuel use, the Administration Department says state vehicles used 412,483 gallons of E85 last year, compared to 165,526 a year earlier.

The state reports 7.5 percent of its fuel purchases were E85, which is a blend of about 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. Minnesota's ethanol is made from corn.

Revenue Department employees did the best at supporting E85, with 39 percent of their fuel purchases. The Agriculture Department was next with 35 percent.

About half of the state's passenger cars and mini-vans can use E85.

Youths caucus, too

Young Minnesotans will be able to voice their presidential preferences on Feb. 5 like their adult counterparts.

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and Kids Voting Minnesota plan an online straw poll coinciding with the state's precinct caucuses.

"Minnesota has a strong tradition of civic participation," Ritchie said. "This program provides a great opportunity to educate our next generation about the importance of civic engagement."

Students of all grade levels may visit from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Feb. 5. They will be asked to choose a party and pick their candidate.

Abortion option unveiled

A small group of Minnesota House Democrats who oppose abortion say they have a plan that gives women who have unplanned pregnancies incentives to opt against abortion.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Mary Ellen Otremba, DFL-Long Prairie, would make it easier for pregnant women to get health insurance, provide parenting grants to college-age women with an unplanned pregnancy and offer a tax credit for adoption-related costs.

"We know that there are economic pieces that cause women to make the choice to abort," Otremba said. She said the abortion rate in Minnesota has declined overall, but has increased among low-income women.

Otremba, who often votes against many in her own party on abortion issues, said a majority of lawmakers could support her proposal.

Pat Mullins, executive director of Democrats for Life in Minnesota, said seven state senators and 14 representatives belong to his organization.

Capitol Bureau reporter Scott Wente contributed to this story. Don Davis writes for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau.