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St. Paul, Minn. — It's an often-repeated bit of Minnesota political lore that the state hasn't supported a Republican presidential candidate since Richard Nixon's 1972 victory. And Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry knows it. He urged a crowd packed into Macalester's field house to keep that tradition intact.
"You didn't vote for Reagan. You didn't vote for Dole. You never voted for anybody called Bush. And in 2004 you have chance to vote for a Democrat and send George Bush back to Texas where he belongs," Kerry told the crowd.
Kerry has won 18 of the 20 Democratic primaries and caucuses so far, and he drew more than 2,000 supporters to the St. Paul rally. Kerry used all of his time to criticize the Bush administration, making no mention of his Democratic rivals, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, or the Rev. Al Sharpton of New York.
Kerry attacked Bush for his handling of the war in Iraq and its aftermath, for his record on the environment, on health care access, and most pointedly on the economy. He blamed the administration's series of tax cuts for inflating the U.S. deficit, and he tweaked the president for the loss of American jobs during the past three years.
Kerry promised that one of his first orders of business -- if elected -- would be to revisit the nation's tax code.
"And we are going to strip out of it every incentive, every reward, every benefit that goes to any Benedict Arnold CEO or company that decides to take the jobs and money overseas and stick the American people with the bill," he said.
Despite the streak of Democratic presidential victories in Minnesota, Republicans say the state is very much in play. Vice President Dick Cheney made a fundraising stop in the Twin Cities earlier this week. And GOP activists note that four years ago Bush lost to Democrat Al Gore by fewer than three percentage points. In the 2002 elections, Republicans swept most of the state's top offices, including the governorship.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty co-chairs the Minnesota Bush-Cheney team. He says the president's economic record compares well.
"The president's policies on the economy are working. We have had robust economic growth. In the last half of 2003, we've seen the highest level of GDP growth in 20 years, growth that we hope will continue and is continuing it appears this year and beyond," Pawlenty said.
Kerry's commanding delegate notwithstanding, his rival Democrats aren't conceding anything. Last weekend, Kucinich and Edwards made campaign stops in Minnesota. And Edwards campaign manager Nick Baldick says the North Carolina senator is better positioned for the eventual showdown with Bush. Baldick says both Kerry and Edwards can count on Democratic support. But he claims polls show Edwards plays better among independents and Republicans.
"The nominee has to be able to persuade these independents and Republicans and also bring other Democrats back to the party. If we do not have a nominee who can make Republicans compete in every region, we are likely to repeat the mistakes of the past," he said.
The Edwards camp notes that the race isn't over yet. The Super Tuesday contests will produce the largest one-day delegate prize this year. And Edwards plans to back in Minnesota on Friday. The eventual nominee, along with President Bush, is likely to make several more visits between now and November.