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Minnesota Republicans head home
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Republicans celebrate at the conclusion of President Bush's speech on Thursday in New York (MPR Photo/Bob Collins)
Minnesota delegates to the Republican National Convention say President Bush laid out a vision several described as "strong," and though the election is two months away, they think the momentum is with their candidate. Democrats say the convention's harsh attacks against Democrat John Kerry will turn off the undecided voters Republicans want to persuade.

New York, NY — On the final day of the convention, Minnesota Republicans gathered at their hotel for drinks, hors d'orves and a group photo. They reflexively chanted "four more years," as they've done too many times to count over the course of the week.

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Gwen Bimberg of Maple Grove was wrapping up her first national convention, and her first trip to New York. She says the week inspired her to go home and work harder for Bush's re-election.

"Hearing all the speakers talk about, 'if you have enough energy to go to the victory party on November 2, you didn't work hard enough,' I'm like, Well, OKk, I guess I'm going to," she said.

Bimberg says she's already done a lot of volunteer work for the Bush campaign, and she plans to put in many more hours before the election.

"I don't have a husband or kids so I have nothing to do but volunteer if I choose, except I have to go to work, of course."

Volunteers like Bimberg will make the difference in November, according to Ron Eibensteiner, chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party.

"We want to build on our success that we had in 2002, by getting making all the phone calls and doing the lit drops and getting people to the polls and all of those rather boring things that need to be done, but if you do them correctly and effectively, you win elections and that's what happened in 2002," he said.

Eibensteiner says Minnesota Republicans will stay motivated because they'll see more visits to the state by Bush, Vice President Cheney, Bush cabinet members and other campaign surrogates.

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Arizona Sen. John McCain visits the state Friday. Eibensteiner and other Minnesota delegates expect the president to get a slight bounce in the polls following the convention. The latest polls show Bush and Kerry in a dead heat.

Dan Williams of Vadnais Heights says Bush has a clear message on homeland security, the economy and social issues, which should sway undecided voters.

"When people have an opportunity to see the president and to hear the president, without exception the people that I've talked to have said, 'I've been able to look him in his eye and now I'm telling people about him.' Contrast that with Kerry; it seems as though the more he talks personally, the lower his numbers go," he said.

Unlike past challengers, Kerry did not get a bounce after the Democratic National Convention. Democrats are skeptical that Bush will help his poll numbers with the GOP convention.

Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe says the strident attacks on Kerry during the convention will backfire in battleground states like Minnesota.

"We had a great convention -- positive, forward-looking, and what you had in this three days of a hate fest, mean-spirited attacks on John Kerry. Here's an incumbent president tearing down his challenger, as a president, you should rise above that and say here's what I did for you for four years. He can't do that, and I think that's going to bode very, very poorly for him in Minnesota. This is not what Minnesotans like," McAuliffe said.

Minnesota Republicans point out that the harshest barbs came not from Republicans, but from the Democrat who addressed the convention. Georgia Senator Zell Miller called Kerry "more wrong, more weak and more wobbly than any other national figure".

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First-time delegate Jake Grassel of Minneapolis was standing near the stage when Miller spoke on Wednesday. Grassel says delegates loved Miller's speech because Miller said he doesn't think Kerry is fit to lead the nation.

"For a Democrat ... to bring down the house at the Republican National Convention was quite amazing to see that. And he has served with the president, he's served with John Kerry he knows that he's not voting for his party, but he's voting for his family, as he said."

Grassel chairs the College Republicans, and says he plans to work 16 to 18 hour days up until the election to get young people to the polls to support Bush. Republicans acknowledge they have their work cut out for them to put Minnesota in the red column for the first time in more than 30 years.

Party chairman Eibensteiner says he thinks Bush will carry the state, but believes it will be won by less than 20,000 votes.

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