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Rochester gets a dose of presidential politics - without any candidates
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Ralph Reed made a morning visit to Rochester to help open the local Bush-Cheney campaign office. Reed told a crowd that he expects the Republicans will take Minnesota in the November elections. (MPR photo/Erin Galbally)
Rochester got a heavy dose of political campaigning on Tuesday, without a single presidential candidate in sight. The competing rallies underline how Minnesota is considered up for grabs in the November elections. Rochester has long been considered a Republican bastion. But Democrats counter the party's growing rapidly in the southeast corner of the state. And there may be another reason Rochester has emerged this week as a strategic stomping ground.

Rochester, Minn. — Early in the morning a small crowd gathered outside of a low slung brick building on one of Rochester's busiest streets. Large banners proclaimed 'Bush-Cheney 2004' and 'Re-elect Gil Gutknecht.' Ralph Reed stood at the top of some concrete stairs. Reed's the former head of the conservative Christian Coalition and a well-known Republican activist. He told the crowd that for first time in decades, the GOP plans to take Minnesota in the November elections.

"What's refreshing about this campaign is, even in the age of satellites and television and the Internet and all of this technology, we've gone back to the greatest emphasis on grass roots politics really since the dawn of television," said Reed.

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Image Max Cleland

Reed was talking about going door-to-door, but his remarks were captured by a host of reporters including television crews from as far away as Iowa. The signal from the local television station also carries across the border into both Wisconsin and Iowa as do radio networks like MPR.

Mathew Felling's with the Center for Media and Public Affairs in Washington DC. Felling says it's no coincidence that Rochester, by simple geography, has attracted attention.

"Rochester, Minnesota, and the region around it is a political epicenter because you're dealing with three swing states all at once," Felling explains. "Here you have one state that was elected by two percentage points, another that was decided by one and another less than one in 2000. So if you can speak to three sets of swing state voters at once. That's a political triple play."

Rochester, Minnesota, and the region around it is a political epicenter because you're dealing with three swing states all at once
- Mathew Felling is with the Center for Media and Public Affairs in Washington DC

At the GOP's Victory Headquarters, Ralph Reed cut a braided red, white and blue streamer officially opening Bush Cheney campaign office to the cheering applause the crowd.

Hours later and across town it was the Democrats turn. The message came from Max Cleland, a former Georgia Senator and the national co-chair of the Kerry Edwards campaign. Cleland's also a Vietnam veteran, who lost his legs and one of his arms during the war.

Cleland spoke at Soldiers Field, surrounded by a granite monument listing the names of local soldiers. After regaling the crowd with John Kerry war stories, he told them to remember three key things.

"One, when John Kerry goes to war he defeats his enemies. Two he brings his boat back to port and three he brings his crew back alive," said Cleland. "That's the kind of leader we need and that's the kind of commander and chief we'll have."

Afterwards as Cleland greeted well wishers. He signed autographs and even kissed a little a girls hand.

Watching from a short distance Marlene Marquette tried to take it all in. She says she can never remember a time in all of her years when Minnesota voters were so eagerly courted. She says this year, things are definitely different.

"I guess they feel we're really important and that we can make a difference in the election," Marquette said with a shrug.

Both parities seem to agree with Marquette's assessment and its expected that there will be more rallies and prominent visitors in Rochester as the campaign for the White House ramps up.

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