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Minnesota gets its say in Tsunami Tuesday

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Minnesota voters will have more say about who runs for president this fall than ever.

State branches of presidential campaigns are springing up in the wake of politically exciting caucuses in Iowa and a primary in New Hampshire. Most candidates will only fly over Minnesota en route to places like California and New York, states much richer in national convention delegates, but when Democrats and Republicans attend caucuses Feb. 5, they will be part of the largest national presidential primary-caucus day in history.

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Known as Super Duper Tuesday, or Tsunami Tuesday, 22 states will hold caucuses or primaries that day. Minnesotans may attend caucuses that night.

"It definitely matters more than any other year," political science professor Paula O'Loughlin at University of Minnesota, Morris said.

The parties moved up their Minnesota caucuses from March in an effort to have a say in the presidential nomination.

O'Loughlin called Minnesota a "tier 2" Feb. 5 state. Big states like California, with 370 Democratic convention delegates, overshadow the 72 from Minnesota, but the professor said Minnesotans should still get involved.

"I just think it is really, really exciting," O'Loughlin said. "We have a tradition of participation. We should live up to our tradition and enjoy the moment."

Minnesotans should not expect an influx of candidates like in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Democrat Hillary Clinton's campaign organizers say they expect the candidate or her husband, former President Bill Clinton, to visit the state before Feb. 5. And Republican candidate Mitt Romney's campaign leader has "penciled in" a visit, but it is far from certain.

Most candidates will spend their time and money elsewhere. Supporters of the candidates will visit the state to rally their troops, much like Gov. Tim Pawlenty has gone to other states supporting GOP hopeful Sen. John McCain.

The campaigns do not have to target the general population, just those who might attend caucuses. That makes small campaigns easier to gain traction than in primary states.

Unpaid volunteers are running many of the campaigns, although the Clinton effort presents the most organization with about 10 paid staff.

"They are going to out-organize everybody," O'Loughlin said. "That is how she won New Hampshire."

That was obvious Wednesday, when Clinton campaign leaders gathered at their Minneapolis headquarters. The speaker list read like a who's who of DFL politics. And plenty of big-name Democrats stood behind those speakers.

Clinton's Minnesota campaign director is Buck Humphrey, grandson of legendary DFL politician Hubert Humphrey. He and other Clinton supporters said Minnesotans should attend DFL caucuses because their vote matters.

"No one state is going to elect a president," said Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner, who is running for governor in 2010.

Humphrey said it is possible 54,000 Minnesota Democrats will attend caucuses, twice those who attended four years ago.

Clinton's Minnesota supporters already have been active, making more than 1,000 calls into New Hampshire before that state's primary.

While Clinton's headquarters is in Minneapolis, offices are expected in several communities, including Duluth, the Iron Range and Willmar.

O'Loughlin said it appears to be a race between Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama. Ex-Sen. John Edwards may be out of contention, she said, although he will get some support from Minnesota progressives.

She predicted Sen. John Kerry, the 2004 presidential nominee, will campaign for Obama in Minnesota.

Obama may decide to put more resources in to Minnesota in an effort to break the Clinton groundswell, O'Loughlin said.

"Obama has to take some states," she said.

While Clinton has corralled many - but certainly not all - Minnesota DFL leaders, Republican leaders are split among leading GOP candidates.

"It suggests it is a very unsettled campaign," said Brian Sullivan, a 2002 governor candidate and Republican national committeeman.

For Republican candidates, caucuses are less important than for Democrats. The GOP will conduct a straw poll Feb. 5, but Minnesota Republican Chairman Ron Carey said it only is a "beauty contest," with no direct impact on the presidential nomination.

Sullivan said the GOP contest remains important because several candidates appear likely to remain viable, even after the big Feb. 5 contests.

"It is looking more and more likely ... there could be a brokered convention," Sullivan said, meaning that there may be no apparent nominee going into the September Republican National Convention in the Twin Cities.

If that is what happens, "every delegate is important" in determining the party's nominee, said Sullivan, who leads former Massachusetts Gov. Romney's Minnesota campaign.

For Iowa's GOP winner, and the man polls show as leading in many other states, it will be strictly a volunteer, grassroots effort.

Carey heads Mike Huckabee's Minnesota campaign and said the former Arkansas governor will not buy television commercials and probably will not visit Minnesota.

However, Carey said, Huckabee did not have a lot of money for his Iowa campaign, either, and was the clear winner there.

Even Pawlenty doesn't expect his candidate to spend much, if any, time in Minnesota.

He is co-chairman of McCain's national campaign and said he probably will do some volunteer work on McCain's behalf in the coming weeks.

Republican candidate Rudy Giuliani has campaigned and raised funds in Minnesota three times. The former New York City mayor relies on an all-volunteer Minnesota campaign.

"We are organizing a ground campaign in Minnesota," TeamRudy Grassroots Chairman Rob Hewitt said. "I think Giuliani campaign is focusing most of its paid resources on the big primary states."

Unless there is no presumed nominee going into the Twin Cities convention, "there will not be too much significance" to the Republican caucuses, Hewitt said.

Capitol reporter Scott Wente contributed to this story.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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