Sen. John Kerry's advisers think they've finally gotten Minnesota where it should be — barely in the Democratic column. For now.
Private polling conducted for Republicans as well as Democrats suggests the state is leaning slightly toward Kerry after weeks of being a tossup, but Minnesota is by no means out of President Bush's reach.
Then-Vice President Al Gore (search) beat Bush in Minnesota by about 2 percentage points in a 2004 campaign that saw little activity by the national candidates in the state. Both sides had assumed Minnesota would easily go Democratic, as it had for every presidential election since 1972.
Bush hopes to end the 32-year drought by increasing turnout in the farther suburbs and rural areas of Minnesota, where the Republican Party has seen most of its growth. Bush is airing more television commercials in Minnesota than Kerry, though both campaigns are flooding the airwaves.
The state is part of the president's Upper Mississippi River strategy that includes two other states won by Gore four years ago — Iowa and Wisconsin. Both campaigns believe Bush is doing slightly better in those two states than in Minnesota.
Kerry can't afford to lose any states won by Gore, much less traditionally Democratic Minnesota with 10 electoral votes. The presidency goes to whoever gets 270 electoral votes.
BY THE NUMBERS:
10 — Electoral votes.
3 — Republican presidential candidates who have won Minnesota since 1952: Eisenhower twice and Nixon once.
1.5 million — Voter registration cards distributed by the secretary of state's office this year.
-60 — state's record low temperature, posted in 1996 in the northern town of Tower.
94 — weight in pounds of the largest lake sturgeon ever caught in Minnesota.
— "He's got conviction. I know exactly where he stands on the issues. I feel I can relate better to Bush personally. Kerry seems a little cold and iffy. I don't feel I know where he stands on anything." — Hanna Everson, a student at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
— "There are some who support the president and his policies who feel being resolute is an important attribute. Yes, it is when you're right. But it's a liability when you're wrong. This president is wrong with a capital `W."' — Jim Bootz, 48, a Navy veteran from Chaska and a Kerry supporter.
Minnesota is among a handful of states that permit same-day voter registration. In 2000, more than 464,000 people signed up at the polls, almost 19 percent of the total turnout.
WHAT TO WATCH ON ELECTION NIGHT:
Long lines of citizens waiting to vote could slow the Election Night count. Voter turnout is traditionally high — tops in the country in 2000 at 69.4 percent — and the rate of absentee ballot requests and new voter registrations suggest a huge number of Minnesotans are planning to cast votes this year. Absentee ballots are opened by hand, checked against voter rolls and then counted. Heavily populated Twin Cities metro counties have already seen unheard-of levels of absentee ballot requests and a similar jump in new voter registrations.
IN MINNESOTA FOUR YEARS AGO:
The state got little attention from the presidential candidates, who figured it would go to the Democrats as it has in every presidential election since 1972. Al Gore, the former vice president, prevailed over Republican Bush, but only by 2.4 percentage points. Both Democrat Kerry and Bush put Minnesota in their sights this year, each with a half-dozen visits and counting.