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Vote encourages Senate candidates

ST. PAUL -- The leading Democratic candidates in Minnesota's U.S. Senate race said record turnout at Tuesday's precinct caucuses bodes well for their campaigns.

Attorney Mike Ciresi and comedian Al Franken are competing with college professor Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer for their party's endorsement. Perennial candidate Dick Franson also is in the race.

Ciresi said his campaign message focused on improving the lives of middle-class Americans likely appealed to caucusgoers with economic concerns.

"The economy has been a phenomenally important issue for me," Ciresi said.

Minnesota Democrats picked Illinois Sen. Barack Obama over rival presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York. Franken said he benefits from voters' interest in Obama's message of change.

"I think I represent a different kind of politics than we've had - a change in the political culture," Franken said.

Democratic caucus participants did not decide which candidate will move forward to run against first-term GOP Sen. Norm Coleman. Instead, the Senate hopefuls need to win the support of delegates who were elected at the local caucuses to participate in county and district conventions and eventually the state party convention.

There also was record turnout among Republican caucusgoers, and Coleman campaign spokesman Tom Erickson said that is indicative of the interest

in the Senate race as

well as the presidential contest.