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Dean hunts for money in Minnesota
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Presidential candidate Howard Dean signs an autograph during a fundraising appearance in St. Paul. (MPR Photo/Marisa Helms)
Ten candidates are vying for the 2004 Democratic nomination for president. The first primary isn't until January, but the candidates are already in high gear raising money. Once, Democrats could count on Minnesota for votes, but many say that's no longer the case. Now Democratic hopefuls come to Minnesota looking for money. And at this point in the presidential campaign, money is everything. Candidate Howard Dean of Vermont attended a fundraiser in St. Paul on Sunday. He came not only to share his views of the presidency, but to pass the basket among the party faithful.

St. Paul, Minn. — This is candidate Dean's second trip to Minnesota in the past six weeks. About 250 people showed up to hear the former Vermont governor speak at the home of a local DFL supporter.

"I want you to do two things," he told supporters. "If you would give us your e-mail address, you can get in touch with this big network of people that we have, first of all. Secondly, you can give us money which is really important by June 30 because we've got to show that we're serious and that we're moving up in our fundraising, and so forth and so on. And, there's an enormous amount to do. I have every intention of trying to win in Minnesota. We're going to work our you-know-whats off to win in Minnesota."

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Image Dean and company

Money is the key to the current season of fundraising. It's called a "phantom," or "shadow" campaign, where each candidate is vying for cash to prove their financial viability.

The Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C., is a non-partisan organization tracking the candidates and their money.

The center's Sheila Krumholz says the 2004 campaign will bring the first challenge of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law. She says with the ban on soft money, presidential candidates will be looking to individual donors more than ever for contributions.

"The hard money that they're expected to raise themselves is paramount. And this is the time for that money to be raised. They want to get it early and they want to show that they are attractive candidates who can attract more money. It's just like Emily's List; early money is like yeast. They want to meet their fundraising threshold and attract more donations and new donors," according to Krumholz.

Early money is like yeast. They want to meet their fundraising threshold and attract more donations and new donors.
- Sheila Krumholz, Center for Responsive Politics

Krumholz says the most recent candidate financial statements show that in Minnesota, candidate John Edwards of North Carolina leads the Democratic fundraising pack by a wide margin. He's followed by Howard Dean.

Dean wants to distinguish himself by showing his willingness to criticize the Democratic Party for not standing against the policies of George W. Bush.

Dean presented himself to the audience as a Wellstone Democrat.

"We've got to fight back and stand up for what we believe; that's what Paul Wellstone was all about. Even though I didn't know Paul well, I think that there are a lot of people in Minnesota who, having known Paul as well as they did, believe in the same kind of message that I'm pushing for, which is it's time for Democrats to be Democrats again," he said.

The legacies of Paul Wellstone, Hubert Humphrey, and Walter Mondale are at least part of the reason why Dean and other Democratic candidates could be stopping by Minnesota early and often in this campaign.

But people in Minnesota who watch national political trends say the reputation of Minnesota as a Democratic state is "overblown."

While the state has voted Democratic in presidential elections consistently, in recent years the state has gone Democratic only by a few percentage points. Ted Mondale, a co-chair of the Minnesota Dean campaign, agrees Minnesota is not as reliable a Democratic state as it was in the past. He says in the next election, Republicans may take Minnesota more seriously.

"States like Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, some of the upper Midwestern states will be battleground states. There's no reason to believe that Minnesota is a sure winner for the Democrats," according to Mondale.

Dean's visit is the first of what may be a busy month for Democratic presidential politics in Minnesota. Later in the month, several candidates are expected in St. Paul for a Democratic presidential candidates forum hosted by the Minnesota DFL Party.

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