Obama wins big, but Minn. could stay battlegroundby Brian Bakst, Associated Press
Minneapolis — Minnesota Democrats defended reliable presidential turf from a Republican incursion and delivered the state for Barack Obama.
But neither side expects Minnesota to fall off the White House target list for next time.
Close finishes in 2000 and 2004 gave Republicans hopes of picking off Minnesota's 10 electoral college votes for the first time in 36 years. The GOP and nominee John McCain showered attention on the state's voters, partly by planting their national convention flag in the Twin Cities.
With a majority of precincts reporting, Obama was headed for a decisive victory.
"The American people have asked for change and I am really proud the people of Minnesota helped," the candidate's Minnesota campaign chief, Jeff Blodgett, told a raucous crowd at a Democratic gathering.
It reinforced Minnesota's reputation as a Democratic bastion - at least when it comes to presidential contests. The state has gone with the Democratic nominee the last nine elections, an unmatched streak nationwide.
McCain did all he could to spoil the party. He plowed millions of dollars into TV ads, paid three visits to the state in the last three months and seriously considered putting Gov. Tim Pawlenty on his ticket.
"I don't think it's ridiculous to think that Republicans can win here," Pawlenty said in an interview Tuesday night. "But this is a state that unquestionably favors Democrats in presidential elections."
Richard Nixon was the last Republican nominee for president to win Minnesota, in 1972. He is the only GOP candidate to win in the state in the last half-century.
Pawlenty could single-handedly make the state competitive if he opts for a presidential bid in 2012. He has two years remaining on his second term, but won't announce until next year whether he'll go for a third or comment on possible national ambitions.
DFL Party Chairman Brian Melendez said he'd be surprised if Republicans retreat from the state's presidential race in four years.
Political experts say the 2008 outcome speaks as much to the conditions as to the candidates, and they're not ready to color the state deep blue.
"Under different circumstances it can still be in play," said Joe Peschek, a Hamline University political science professor.
Chris Gilbert, a political scientist at Gustavus Adolphus College, said Republicans up and down the ticket struggled to disassociate themselves from an unpopular incumbent in President Bush.
Bush will be long gone by the time 2012 rolls around, and the state's independent voters could just as easily swing behind a Republican like they got behind Obama this time.
"The door will be open to a Republican nominee who can speak to the concerns of independent voters who are less ideological and more pragmatic," Gilbert said.
Obama captured nine in 10 voters who based their vote on a candidate's ability to bring about change, according to exit polling for The Associated Press and other media outlets. He also made inroads in typically Republican areas, including the collar of suburbs around the Twin Cities - an area that Bush won by about 10 points in 2004 even as he lost the state. In the Minneapolis-St. Paul region, the exit poll showed him with about roughly two-thirds support.
Six in 10 voters told exit pollsters they made up their mind before September, and well over half backed Obama.
Shannon Burns, a 38-year-old hairstylist, snapped a photo of herself and her young daughter outside a St. Paul polling place where she cast a vote for Obama. Burns, who is black, reflected on the groundbreaking nature of Obama's bid and the message it sent to her daughter.
"Yesterday, she asked me if she could be president and I told her, 'Absolutely,"' Burns said. "I don't think there is a lot of black children who have asked that before."
At the same polling place, 25-year-old Amy Newton went for McCain, citing his views on abortion and his overall experience.
Newton, an administrative assistant, said her brother returned from Iraq last week and "having heard what he is going through, I find myself needing to support someone with military experience for commander in chief."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)