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Local political leaders selecting presidential favorites
The 2004 presidential election is still 11 months away, but the presidential campaign is well underway in Minnesota. Three Democratic candidates recently kicked off their Minnesota campaigns, and some are mobilizing Minnesotans to travel to Iowa in advance of next month's caucuses. Meantime, Republicans are working to sign up a record number of Minnesota volunteers for President George W. Bush's re-election campaign.

St. Paul, Minn. — One of the most visible presidential campaigns in Minnesota is that of former Vermont governor Howard Dean. Dean has been to the state three times since the spring and his supporters hold dozens of monthly meetups around the state. More than a thousand supporters attended 53 Dean meetups in Minnesota last week.

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Image Kerry supporter Sam Kaplan

At Ruminator Books in St. Paul, supporters gathered to talk about the Dean campaign, and write letters to Iowa residents in support of Dean. About half of the people at the Ruminator meetup were attending their first Dean event, and many of them are new to the political process. Susan Kassin of St. Paul said she was a supporter of the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, and became politically active after George W. Bush was elected in 2000. Kassin said she decided to back Dean, because he has the ability to mobilize people.

"I think Dean inspires people to just come out of the woodwork and really feel like they can do something. I really believe that," Kassin said. "He inspires people to take their country back, as corny as that sounds, and I think Bush is a big part of it too. He's also inspiring a lot of people to help Dean."

Dean has the support of Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, Met Council Chairman Ted Mondale, and former state Auditor Judi Dutcher. But other prominent Minnesota DFLers are supporting different candidates. Sen. John Kerry,D-Mass., is backed by DFL power couples Sam and Sylvia Kaplan, Mike and Ann Ciresi and Vance and Darin Opperman. Sam Kaplan says he met several of the presidential candidates before deciding to support the man he describes as a "war hero".

"The moment we met him, we knew we were with a president," Kaplan said. "We knew we were with a man who had the stature and the bearing, the experience and the toughness to be president of the United States."

Kaplan said about 500 Kerry supporters attended a fundraiser at Kaplan's home a couple of months ago. Kerry's Minnesota campaign is being run by Buck Humphrey, who announced the Kerry steering committee last month. That same day, Humphrey's father, Skip Humphrey, announced his support for Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn.

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Image Lieberman supporters

"I think he's one of the smartest and hardest working and most humble and honest persons I know," Humphrey said. "He's the kind of person that is both progressive and has an independent mind, and I think that reflects very much what the state of Minnesota is all about. And that's why I think he's going to do very well here."

The latest candidate to enter the Democratic presidential race, retired General Wesley Clark, made a campaign stop in Minnesota last month. At a Bloomington rally and fundraiser, Debbie Calvert of Minnetonka said she thinks Clark is the only candidate who can beat Bush.

"I think that he has all the diplomatic skills from his background, all the military skills, he has a degree in economics, you know, he's an incredibly bright man," Calvert said. "And I think he has what it takes to put this country back on the right track."

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Image Clark supporter Debbie Calvert

The Clark campaign has also been holding meetups in Minnesota, as have supporters of Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio. Kucinich has visited Minnesota three times in the last six months, and he often compares himself to Paul Wellstone. His Minnesota co-coordinator, Sarah Snider, said Kucinich appeals to Wellstone supporters.

"A lot of us feel like, you know, we see something in Dennis that we saw in Paul, and we don't want to let it go. We don't want to let it slip away," Snider said. "We want to work as hard as we can for what we believe in, because we lost it once and we don't want to lose it again."

None of the other four Democratic presidential candidates - Carol Moseley Braun; Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C.; Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Mo.; or Al Sharpton - has an active Minnesota campaign at this point.

As the Democratic candidates battle for support, President Bush has the Republican nomination locked up. The Midwest regional chair for the Bush/Cheney campaign, former congressman Vin Weber said the campaign is using this time to organize supporters. Weber said the campaign plans to have more Minnesota volunteers than any previous presidential campaign in Minnesota. He said although Bush ran a close second to Al Gore in 2000, Bush has a chance of carrying the state next year.

"We have seen Minnesota trending Republican for many years, we have a popular Republican governor, a popular Republican senator, and we're going to see both parties contesting it very, very heavily," Weber said.

Both parties are gearing up to get Minnesotans to the state's March 2 caucuses, even though most political observers think Minnesota's caucuses may be too late in the game to have much impact on the Democratic presidential nomination.

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