Voter enthusiasm a gauge of political interest in swing districtby Sasha Aslanian, Minnesota Public Radio
Eagan, Minn. — Political enthusiasm this year got voters down in the trenches in the suburban swing district of Eagan.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum came up with a big win in the Minnesota GOP's state caucus Tuesday evening, as well as those in Colorado, and a primary in Missouri.
In 2006, Eagan Democrats won all three legislative seats — one in the state Senate and two in the House. Democrats held onto them until 2010, when Republicans swept them all. Eagan Democrats are determined to win those seats back in November.
Vicki Wright sits at the "nerve center" for the Democrats as they caucus at Eagan High School. She's paying attention to turnout.
"Well, this is definitely much larger than we had last time ... I actually think we're going to get closer to 500, but we'll see," Wright said. "It seems much livelier this time around than than 2010."
Wright tracks caucus attendance as an indicator of voter enthusiasm come November. Voters were far more interested in 2008 when over 3,000 Eagan Democrats turned out to caucus. That was the year Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were duking it out for the top of the ticket. That year, Eagan DFLers hung onto their three seats in the Legislature.
Democrats were complacent two years later, Wright said.
"They kind of dusted the hands off and said 'OK" and went and did other things, perhaps," Wright said. "[Democrats] took their eye off the ball and didn't realize how much of a threat the Republican message was really going to be."
Across town at Black Hawk Middle School where the Eagan Republican caucus convenes, Jeff Schuette remembers the Democratic apathy in 2010. He was out canvassing for a Republican candidate.
"You'd walk up to someone's house, knew they were very much a Democrat, because they had millions of Democratic signs in their yard," Schuette said. "You could still walk up and talk to them about it and they wouldn't shoo you away. So we knew we had something going on. Not sure quite so good this time, but I will say I still think the Republicans have lot of energy yet."
In Schuette's 7th precinct in Eagan, Republican caucus-goers appeared to have their minds decided in the presidential race. They got right down to voting in their straw poll.
But when Schuette distributed the ballots passed out the little squares of paper listing candidates' names, Joan Bohlig noticed something odd.
"There was no name for Mitt Romney, so I was surprised and passed in the ballot and got a new one that did have it, but that was a mistake," Bohlig said.
A volunteer accidentally left Romney's name off some of the ballots, Eagan Republicans said.
There was some joking in the precinct from voters who hadn't noticed the omission. Santorum was the winner in this room, as he was at many caucuses across Minnesota.
- Morning Edition, 02/08/2012, 7:20 a.m.