Campaigns work to get supporters to caucusesby Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio
As the candidates travel the country in anticipation of Super Tuesday, the real work is behind the scenes. That's where the campaigns are working furiously to get out the vote.
St. Paul, Minn. — The two leading Democrats in the presidential race, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are working to win Minnesota's 72 delegates. Because Minnesota's caucuses are not winner-take-all, the campaigns are trying to create networks across the state to pick up support in every precinct they can.
About 30 people cram into the living room of this Edina home to build support for Obama's campaign. The attendees share stories, nibble on food and sip wine. Once they get talking about policy, they share their stories on why they decided to back Obama.
"I'm 60-years-old and since the sixties I have not had hope in a candidate like I have in Barack, and I want to do what I can to help his campaign along," says one.
"It's just refreshing to see somebody when you sit back at first and say 'no, don't get excited." And then all of a sudden you're getting excited and you're like maybe I'll be alive for another one," says another.
"I love Obama because of the hope, because of the message he conveys and his life experience to me is more interesting to me than his political experience," says another.
The campaign held house parties like this with the hopes of motivating supporters to caucus for Obama. Precinct captain Joe Cupka also pleaded with his audience to make phone calls, talk to friends and even wear Obama buttons. The group gathered around a cell phone to listen to a conference call with Barack Obama's sister. It was a back to the future moment almost like families gathered around a radio broadcast in the 1930s.
While Obama's campaign is using conference calls like this one to motivate voters, the Hillary Clinton campaign has been using the phones to contact key supporters.
"Hello, I'm Julie Ann and I'm calling from Hillary Clinton's campaign in Minnesota," said a caller at the campaign headquarters.
The callers are using a database to call likely caucus-goers and independents who could choose to caucus. They ask whether a voter will caucus, who they support and even do a little cajoling when a voter is undecided between Clinton and Obama.
"As likeable as he is, I just don't know if he is ready to hit the ground running and after the last eight years of George Bush, we can't afford a big learning curve," a campaign volunteer said to a potential voter on the phone.
Buck Humphrey is the Minnesota Campaign Chair for Clinton. He said the campaign expects to make several hundred thousand calls before Tuesday.
"We've narrowed it down to the undecideds of leaning Hillary and we're calling those folks to try to solidify them with support for the campaign," he said.
The Republican candidates are also working to win Minnesota, but the prize on their side is more about bragging rights than delegates. That's because the GOP straw poll is nonbinding and won't determine who delegates vote for at the national convention.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who co-chairs John McCain's presidential campaign, said last week that's why McCain is focusing his time and money in other states.
"Given the attention that's been paid to the other states and the small amount of time and short resources the McCain effort is going to have to rely on the good judgement of the people here," he said.
McCain's volunteer coordinator said the campaign is making phone calls, handing out lawn signs and working to get out McCain's key supporters. But Pawlenty has been campaigning for McCain in other states, not Minnesota.
Mike Huckabee's campaign is targeting faith and values voters like the ones who helped the former Arkansas governor win the Iowa caucuses. Huckabee's wife, Janet, spoke at Northwestern College in Roseville last week.
She told an audience of 1,500 students at the Christian school that she and her husband are unapologetically Christian and don't run from that.
"I don't know how people can do the things they do, and go through the brutal and grueling schedule that is necessary for a presidential candidate without the grace of God on their side," she said. "I don't know how they do it."
The Republican candidate who appears to be the most organized in Minnesota is Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts govenor has some high profile Republicans backing his campaign.
They include former Rep. Vin Weber, a top GOP political strategist. Weber said the Romney campaign is hoping to convince their supporters to run for delegate slots to get to the national convention.
"In a caucus and convention state like Minnesota it's equally important to get them to run for delegate positions when they go to the caucuses and then get the delegates to the BPOU conventions, the congressional district conventions and the state conventions pledging to elect a Romney slate of delegates," he said.
Ron Paul's campaign has also been active in Minnesota. The Texas Congressman is the only Republican to run TV ads here. Paul's campaign has also sent out mailings and supporters have been waving signs on the major highways.
- All Things Considered, 02/04/2008, 5:20 p.m.