Presidential campaigns gear up in Minnesotaby Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio
Minnesota's caucuses are on Feb. 5, a day when more than 20 other states will also hold contests. Some of the campaigns, like Illinois Sen. Barack Obama's, have been active in Minnesota for months. Others, like former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's campaign, are just getting started.
Des Moines, Iowa — Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak was a little bit out of his jurisdication this week. The Democrat was campaigning along with the mayor of Des Moines on behalf of Barack Obama. Rybak encouraged the people eating lunch at a Des Moines senior center to vote for Obama.
"What brought you all the way down here?" one person asked Rybak.
"Barack Obama," Rybak said. "I will travel a long way for this guy."
Now that Obama has won the Iowa caucuses, Rybak and other Obama volunteers will head north with the hopes of winning Minnesota. Rybak said Obama's success in Iowa gave valuable experience to volunteers who will take their efforts to other states.
"A lot of the people who are organizing here will be coming back to Minnesota," Rybak said. "A lot of the Minnesotans who were organizing here will come back to Minnesota, so we already have a great ground game going."
Rybak said he also expects Obama to ramp up the number of paid staffers working in Minnesota.
While Obama's campaign is looking to increase activity in Minnesota, supporters of Republican Mike Huckabee are still getting their campaign off the ground in Minnesota.
Huckabee's campaign caught fire in Iowa in November. But his campaign didn't even have a point person in Minnesota until mid-December. Finance reports show that Huckabee's campaign had just 12 Minnesota contributors who donated $6,000 through Sept. 30, 2007.
Gary Borgandale of Mounds View said Huckabee's Minnesota campaign now has a five-person steering committee and expects to get greater support after Huckabee's Iowa victory. He said Huckabee can rely on the same base of support that helped him win Iowa -- evangelical voters.
"Minnesota has a large Catholic, evangelical base that will be able to come in behind Mike Huckabee as well," Borgandale said. "We think we have an opportunity to help promote that growth in Minnesota, because there will be a lot of people who will see some of the aspects that Mike Huckabee stands for and jump on and support him as well."
As in Iowa, Huckabee will be battling with the well-organized, well-funded campaign of Mitt Romney for Republican support. The former governor from Massachusetts finished second to Huckabee in Iowa.
Brian Sullivan, co-chair for Romney's Minnesota steering committee, said Romney's campaign is one of the most organized in Minnesota. He said Republican voters should expect plenty of campaign literature and phone calls between now and Feb. 5.
"You can get the delegates for a relatively small investment because we're a caucus state, and we're somewhat off the radar screen in the midst of all of the other states coming up on Feb. 5," Sullivan said. "It's going to be grass roots and phone calls. So for a relatively small investment you can get up to 41 delegates…"
Sullivan said he's most worried about Rudy Giuliani's campaign in Minnesota. Giuliani has raised the most money of any Republican in Minnesota. Arizona Sen. John McCain is second to Giuliani.
Hillary Clinton collected the most money of any presidential candidate in Minnesota -- Democrat or Republican.
Clinton's national political director Guy Cecil said the campaign has already held "a number of caucus trainings around Minnesota," and signed up "several thousand volunteers" on its Web site.
Cecil said the volunteers will help build support for Clinton in their home congressional districts, help recruit more volunteers, and also participate in "virtual phone banks" on Clinton's behalf.
"They simply log on to HillaryClinton.com with a username and passcode, and we provide them with the names of Minnesota caucus-goers, or likely caucus-goers, to share their message about Sen. Clinton, tell the story about why they're supporting her and remind folks that the caucus is happening on Feb. 5," he said.
Cecil said Minnesotans can also expect a visit from either Sen. Clinton or her husband, former President Bill Clinton, before the caucuses.
The state coordinator for John Edwards is also hoping that the former North Carolina senator makes a trip to Minnesota between now and Feb. 5. Laura Nevitt said Edwards has 500 volunteers in Minnesota. She said they'll start contacting Minnesotans who either supported Edwards for president in 2004, or said they'll support him this year.
"That list we know is a good 5,000 to 10,000 names," Nevitt said. "We'll start there and start ID'ing them, and encouraging them to go to caucus on Feb. 5 here in Minnesota on how to do that, where their precinct caucus is, and providing that kind of information."
It's possible that Minnesota may be overlooked by the presidential candidates since 22 states have primaries on Feb. 5. But officials with both the state DFL and Minnesota Republican parties say moving the caucuses up a month means the state will get more attention.
They also say the candidates will watch Minnesota because of its status as a swing state.
- All Things Considered, 01/04/2008, 5:20 p.m.