FARGO – Republican incumbent Doug Goehring commands a strong lead over Democratic challenger Ryan Taylor in the closely watched North Dakota agriculture commissioner race, a new poll shows.

Still, many voters – 28 percent – remained undecided in a contest that could alter the makeup of the three-member North Dakota Industrial Commission, which plays a key role in regulating oil and gas development.

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Goehring drew support from 45 percent of respondents, compared to 27 percent for Taylor, according to a poll commissioned by Forum Communications Co. and conducted by the University of North Dakota College of Business Administration and Public Affairs.

The new poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent, with 95 percent confidence, and is based on landline and cellphone interviews of 505 randomly selected North Dakotans 18 and older who said they were likely to vote. The surveys were conducted between Sept. 26 and Oct. 3.

Goehring’s large lead over Taylor one month before the Nov. 4 election appeared striking, said Robert Wood, an associate professor of political science at UND and poll analyst.

“I thought it would be closer,” he said. “I was expecting that would be the race we would all want to watch.”

Taylor, the Democrats’ unsuccessful 2012 gubernatorial candidate, would have to capture the vast majority of undecided voters in order to unseat Goehring, the poll findings suggest.

“It does seem like a steep hill,” Wood said, who noted that there did not appear to be a big east-west divide in either candidate’s support.

The poll breakdown showed Goehring with “very favorable” or “favorable” impressions among 36 percent of likely voters, with 45 percent answering “don’t know” or “not sure.”

Taylor had “very favorable” or “favorable” impressions from 28 percent of likely voters, while 47 percent answered “don’t know” or “not sure.”

Goehring maintained a strong lead over Taylor across diverse demographic groups of voters.

The Republican’s support was strongest among male voters, who favored Goehring by 47 percent to 27 percent for Taylor. Female voters favored Goehring by 44 percent to 27 percent for Taylor.

Among age groups, Goehring’s strongest support, 59 percent, was with voters 66 years or older. Taylor’s greatest appeal by age group was split among voters 18 to 30 and 46 to 65; his support for both groups was between 29 and 30 percent.

The breakdown of poll respondents according to self-identified party affiliation: Republicans, 38 percent; Democrats, 19 percent; independents, 27 percent; Libertarians, 4 percent; 13 percent declined to say or weren’t sure.

Goehring, who was appointed to the office in 2009 and elected to his first term in 2010, is the only member on this year’s ballot on the influential Industrial Commission, which also includes fellow Republicans Gov. Jack Dalrymple and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.

During the campaign, the tension between energy development and impacts on farmers and ranchers has been a major issue – a concern that also has commanded broad public interest, making this year’s race for the agriculture post unusual.

Goehring farms with his son near Menoken in Burleigh County. Taylor is a McHenry County commissioner who formerly served in the North Dakota Senate and ranches near Towner.

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