On eve of caucuses, GOP candidates criss-cross Minnesotaby Tom Robertson, Minnesota Public Radio
Bemidji, Minn. — Minnesota is getting attention from Republican presidential hopefuls just before the state party caucuses on Tuesday.
Rick Santorum is scheduled to be in Rochester Monday. He'll visit Soldiers' Field Memorial at 9 a.m. and give a health care policy speech at 10 a.m. at the Grand Kahler Hotel.
Ron Paul will hold a 4 p.m. town hall and rally at St. Cloud's River's Edge Convention Center.
Newt Gingrich will hold a 7:30 p.m. rally at the Ramada Hotel Bloomington near the Mall of America.
Mitt Romney's supporters will hold a 4:45 p.m. rally at his Minnesota campaign headquarters, 7,300 Metro Boulevard Suite 135. Gov. Tim Pawlenty is expected to attend. Romney will not be there.
On Sunday, Santorum stopped by the Bemidji Woolen Mills knitting facility, where machines are cranking out the sweater vests he regularly wears on the campaign trail. The mill was asked to make 1,000 vests that will be given to people who donate $100 or more to Santorum's campaign.
The senator says the company fits in nicely with his emphasis on restoring manufacturing to the country.
"When the sweater vest became a popular item for us, we wanted to source a completely American-made product, and we were able to find this establishment here," said Santorum. "We wanted to come up here and see how it's made in America here in Bemidji."
Fourth generation Woolen Mills owner Bill Batchelder, who has become a Santorum supporter, says the senator's fashion statement has gotten lots of media attention. Batchelder says that's translated into a boost in business for the mill, and growing popularity of the sweater vest.
"It's gone crazy. It has totally defined Rick Santorum," said Batchelder. "It describes Main Street America. The sweater vest is that guy, the good guy in every town."
Santorum could use a boost on the campaign trail. Since his first-place finish in the Iowa caucus, Santorum has lost four straight primary contests. He's hoping Minnesota will be the game changer.
"I think we've gotten a lot of great reaction here and we're going to do well here," Santorum told the crowd. "A good strong second or maybe a first would be a wonderful way of resetting the race here, and I think Minnesota could have a big role in that."
Santorum found lots of support at a pancake breakfast Sunday at the Catholic Church in Bemidji. Sonjya Workman of Bemidji said Santorum shares some of her social values, and she'll support Santorum at the caucus on Tuesday.
"I think he is very honest. He's the real deal. He stands for a lot of things we stand for in the heart of America," she said.
Some people are still making up their minds. George Wosika of Bena said Santorum is his No. 2 choice, but added that could change between now and Tuesday's caucus.
"I know Rick's a Catholic. I'm a Catholic. I'm kind of leaning toward Gingrich, but I was really pro-Gingrich to begin with. We're moving more toward Santorum," said Wosika.
Minnesota was once known for political consensus, but these days politics in the state is as contentious as anywhere else. That means many voters are still unsure, and candidates who are behind still have a shot.
Paul made three stops in Minnesota Saturday, including one in Chanhassen where he spoke to a crowd of about 500 supporters.
"I want to thank you for coming out and, with all the enthusiasm, I think we have reason to be optimistic about not only our future, but maybe we have reason to be optimistic about Tuesday, too," Paul said.
While Paul has a core of staunch supporters, people like Craig Hansen are still making up their minds. Hansen said he plans to attend the caucus on Tuesday, and hopes some of Paul's ideas get a hearing.
"I think he has some very good points that would apply for the country here, and hopefully the other guys will cross-pollinate some other ideas," said Hansen. "And may the best man not only represent those ideas for the election, but carry through with them, whoever gets elected."
- Morning Edition, 02/06/2012, 7:20 a.m.