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President Bush mining votes on traditional DFL turf
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President George W. Bush holds his hand to his ear beside National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice as reporters shout questions over noise from the Marine One helicopter on the South Lawn of the White House on Monday. Bush was about to take the short flight to Andrews Air Force Base in neighboring Maryland state en route to Oak Ridge, Tennessee. (PAUL J.RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
President Bush is making a stop in northern Minnesota for an evening rally at the Duluth Convention Center. The Bush campaign visit comes a little more than a week after Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry appeared at a rally just outside of Duluth in Cloquet. DFLers say northeastern Minnesota is solidly Democratic and that the president is wasting his time trying to pick up votes there. But Republicans say many residents of northern Minnesota agree with the president on key issues and they're not giving up on any part of the state.

Duluth, Minn. — University of Minnesota-Duluth political science professor Craig Grau says it's no surprise the presidential candidates are campaigning in Duluth as they fight for votes in a part of the country that pollsters say could decide November's election.

"One of the advantages of coming to Duluth is that our media market spans three states that are in play -- upper Michigan, northern Wisconsin and northern Minnesota -- so he gets to hit three at once," Grau says. "The second reason is he's got people up here who know how to organize."

The last time George W. Bush was in Duluth was in November 2000 when he was running for president. Just days before the election, several thousand people packed an arena at the city's convention center to hear Bush.

"It's a tough race and I'm running against a tough competitor who's got a lot of confidence," Bush said before a cheering crowd. "Obviously he's got so much confidence he claims he invented the Internet. But if he's so smart, how come every Internet address begins with 'W'?"

Nearly a week later voters in Minnesota's 8th Congressional District, which includes Duluth, chose Al Gore over Bush by five percentage points. Gore ran about 2 1/2 percentage points ahead of Bush in the state as a whole.

In the 2002 Senate election Republican Norm Coleman beat DFLer Walter Mondale statewide by three points. But in the 8th District voters backed Mondale over Coleman by about eight percentage points.

Even so, the chief strategist for the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign, Matthew Dowd, maintains Duluth and other Upper Midwestern areas that are traditionally Democratic strongholds now offer increasing opportunities for GOP candidates.

"The interesting thing about it in places like Duluth, Minnesota, Green Bay Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, these are areas that used to be solidly Democratic that now the president is very popular in," Dowd told reporters during a recent conference call. "He carried the Upper Peninsula of Michigan; the first time a Republican has done that in a long time. He does very will in Green Bay. He's doing well in Duluth. These are areas that used to be Democratic that now are swing that in order for us to win the states, we're going to compete everywhere."

Bush may be more competitive in places like Duluth and Green Bay because of his position of social issues. UMD political science professor Craig Grau says even though the 8th District remains a DFL stronghold, Democrats there tend to be socially conservative and are more likely than DFLers elsewhere in Minnesota to oppose legalized abortion, and gun control.

Just look, Grau says, at the positions of DFL Congressman Jim Oberstar who's represented the 8th District since the mid-1970s.

"Congressman Oberstar is pro-life and people would say pro-gun, which is not usually viewed as a liberal position, but on economics it goes very, very or tends to be very liberal so Paul Wellstone emphasizing economic issues went over very well in this area and so people think of it as a DFL area but it isn't totally that way," Grau says.

Rep. Oberstar, D-Minn., says 8th district voters' concerns go well beyond hot-button social issues. Oberstar accuses the GOP of talking about things like gay marriage to skirt more important debate.

"When Republicans raise those issues they're ducking and dodging the fundamental issue of our times and that is jobs," Oberstar says.

Opponents of President Bush plan to gather in downtown Duluth prior to the rally, and then spread out around the city in hopes of getting their message out.

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