Third district candidates making final push for supportersby Curtis Gilbert, Minnesota Public Radio
After eight debates and $8 million worth of television ads, the race for Congress in Minnesota's 3rd Congressional District is coming down to the ground game. DFLer Ashwin Madia, Republican Erik Paulsen and Independence Party candidate David Dillon are making their final push to get their supporters out to the polls.
Eden Prairie, Minn. — DFL Field Organizer Johnny Matthias fired up the volunteers in Osseo Monday morning. Then, he administered a brief tutorial on how to get out the vote for Barack Obama, Al Franken and Ashwin Madia. He said the key is to stay positive and leave voters with warm feelings for your party.
"They might not remember necessarily the tax policy of our Senate candidate, but they'll remember that a wonderful volunteer showed up at their door and was so dedicated to this cause that they're going to go out there and vote for you," Matthias said.
Madia agrees. At this point in the race, you have to win your votes one at a time.
"All these millions of ads that are washing over people, they aren't paying attention to any of it anymore," Madia said. "What they are paying attention to is if someone comes to their door and they actually take the time to talk to them a little bit about what's going on and answer their questions. That's the stuff that makes the difference."
The race to represent the Minneapolis suburbs has been by far the most expensive Congressional contest in the state this year, and probably the most expensive Minnesota has ever seen.
The incumbent, Republican Jim Ramstad, is retiring, and the polls show his potential successors are locked in a close battle. The latest one had Republican Erik Paulsen leading, but it was within the margin of error. Madia said it's going to be a photo finish.
"It's going to come down to a few thousand votes, a few thousand votes out of about 400,000 cast," Madia said. "Think about that. That's less than 1 or 2 percent. That means that what we're doing here today could very well swing this election."
When he's not firing up the volunteers to get out the vote, Madia is crisscrossing the district doing it himself.
On Saturday morning, he was wandering the aisles at a JC Penney store, introducing himself to voters in Coon Rapids. He's managed to boil his stump speech down to about 15 seconds, and he makes just three points.
"First, I'm going to work with both sides to get things done, Republicans and Democrats," begins Madia's pitch. "Second, I'm not going to raise your taxes. Don't believe those nasty ads they're throwing out. And third, if you give me this honor, I'll work hard for you every day. I'll give it everything I've got to get this country back on track."
Republican Erik Paulsen has perfected his abbreviated stump speech, too.
"Well to keep it simple, I remind them exactly who I am, Erik Paulsen," Paulsen said. "I'm running for Congress. And Congress needs to change, and I want to help fix it."
Paulsen spent the morning giving that speech to voters in Medina, Hamel and Spring Park. He also gave a pep talk to the volunteers at a GOP call center in Eden Prairie.
"Thanks for all your work," Paulsen told his volunteers. "We're going to win this thing, alright? Here we go!"
On Saturday morning, just down the street from the call center, Paulsen had a rally to tout his support from the organization Vets for Freedom. Its state director, Michael Baumann, revved up the crowd for him.
And just like Madia, Paulsen impressed a simple message on his volunteers, this election is in your hands.
"Please tell 10 more friends," Paulsen said. "Knock on doors this weekend. Make some phone calls, because I know with your help and your energy and your enthusiasm, we will win on Tuesday."
Minnesota Republican Congressman John Kline even took some time away from his own re-election bid to appear at Paulsen's rally. Though he didn't linger long afterwards.
Retiring Congressman Ramstad joined Paulsen on the campaign trail this afternoon. Madia got a little help this morning from another politician who's popular in the area, Democratic U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar.
Klobuchar won the 3rd District comfortably two years ago. Before that, she represented it when she was Hennepin County Attorney. But she reminded the DFL door-knockers, that when she ran her first campaign she won by only the tiniest of margins, two votes per precinct.
"So that's what I want you to think about today, that two votes per precinct, as you get out there as you're knocking on doors and you're making those phone calls and you're getting that literature out to the last place," Klobuchar said.
Independence Party candidate David Dillon spent yesterday touring the western suburbs by RV. But his schedule hasn't had the frantic pace of the two leading candidates'.
Dillon, who was at 10 percent in the most recent poll, had only one campaign event on Saturday. He spoke to a group of fewer than 20 voters at a meeting of Christians United for Israel in Eden Prairie.
"I can say who I am, and why I'm here and all of that if you'd like," Dillon said. "Or I can just answer questions. This is kind of what I do these days."
Today, Dillon is cruising from town to town by motorcycle, meeting voters. But Dillon has to take it slow. He's carrying around a life-size cardboard likeness of himself on the back of the bike, and he doesn't want it to blow away.
- All Things Considered, 11/03/2008, 4:45 p.m.