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Republican Gubernatorial Debate

Foster Friess listens to Mark Gordon during the Aug. 1 Republican gubernatorial debate at Casper College's Wheeler Hall. A new poll shows Friess leading the six-way contest, though Wyoming Treasurer Mark Gordon polled within the margin of error.

A new poll of Wyoming voters has placed multimillionaire investor Foster Friess at the top of the Republican field for governor.

However, that lead comes with an asterisk. Wyoming Treasurer Mark Gordon trailed Friess by only one point, and with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.35 percentage points, the two front runners are, in effect, in a dead heat.

According to the poll, Friess currently leads the field of six Republican candidates with 21 percent of likely voters. Gordon followed with 20 percent of the vote. Natural resources lawyer Harriet Hageman polled in third place, at 16.2 percent, with Sam Galeotos (9.5 percent), Taylor Haynes (5.7 percent) and Bill Dahlin (2.2 percent) rounding out the field of candidates.

The poll also makes it clear that it is still very much anyone’s race, with nearly 20 percent of Wyoming voters currently undecided.

Nearly 6 percent of those polled had already voted, which played largely in the favor of Gordon, who gathered 36 percent of all early votes. (Friess was second in that category, at 24 percent.)

The poll released Wednesday mirrors internal polling conducted by the Friess campaign, said Friess campaign manager Jon Parker. He said the campaign didn’t pay for the new poll.

Compared to the last poll conducted for the Wyoming gubernatorial race – performed by the University of Wyoming in July – the new poll made three things apparent:

First, support for Gordon is stable. In the UW poll, Gordon led the field of six candidates at 19 percent – a number that has since increased to 20 percent. Support for him remained high as support for other candidates in the race dropped. In July, Galeotos polled at 14.4 percent – he has since dropped six points. Haynes, in that poll, was rated at 10 percent by the voters – his favorability has dropped as well.

The poll also shows that voters are beginning to make up their minds. The UW poll in July, which surveyed nearly 600 people across the state, showed nearly 35 percent of all voters were still undecided. That number has been cut by nearly half, this time across a much larger pool of respondents.

Finally, the new poll shows Hageman and Friess have gained momentum. While Hageman posted an impressive surge of close to six points, Friess – helped by massive ad buys and numerous public appearances – watched his support surge by 12 points, impressive considering the July UW poll placed his name recognition at 57 percent: second-lowest among all candidates.

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The poll was conducted by the center-right leaning Trafalgar Group, a Georgia-based polling firm known for forecasting unlikely GOP victories in the final weeks of both statewide and national races. The firm accurately predicted numerous Donald Trump victories in the 2016 presidential campaign when others didn’t, predicting victories in Georgia (Trump ahead by 7 points), Florida (Trump ahead by 4 points) and Michigan (Trump ahead by 2 points) in its final polls — one of the few firms to conduct statewide polls in the closing days of the race.

Its predictions, according to an analysis of 27 polls by FiveThirtyEight, are accurate 85 percent of the time. However, its predictive plus/minus score, which rates the pollster’s quality, was a “C.”

The poll, which didn’t include the Democratic primary, tallied responses from 1,775 registered voters out of more than 50,000 households contacted across the state over the course of three days, according to the firm, and were conducted through a mix of emailed surveys as well as cell phone and landline calls. Results were then weighted to reflect the geographic and demographic breakdown of Wyoming’s population.

The primary election is Tuesday.

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Follow politics reporter Nick Reynolds on Twitter @IAmNickReynolds

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