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Edwards kicks off frenzied week of presidential campaigning in Minnesota
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Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards enjoyed a warm reception in Hibbing Tuesday night. Some 5,700 people turned out for the campaign rally, many of them union members. "We are going to stand up and fight for your jobs," Edwards said. (MPR Photo/Chris Julin)
Both presidential campaigns are giving lots of attention to Minnesota this week. Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards made a stop in Hibbing Tuesday night. This was the Kerry campaign's first big rally on the Iron Range. Edwards is the first of the four top-of-the-ticket candidates who will visit Minnesota before the end of the week. President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Democratic candidate John Kerry all make campaign stops in the state over the next few days.

Hibbing, Minn. — The Iron Range is famously strong DFL territory. But the vote up in these parts isn't as lopsided as it used to be. Look at what's happened in St. Louis County -- the county that's home to most of the Iron Range and to Duluth.

In 1992, when Bill Clinton was first elected, only about one-fifth of the voters in the county cast a ballot for the Republican. That was the elder George Bush. In 2000, George W. Bush got about one-third of the votes in St. Louis County.

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Image Walter Mondale

So politics are changing on the Iron Range, but there are still plenty of loyal Democrats. And several thousand of them packed into the Hibbing Memorial Arena to see John Edwards Tuesday night.

A string of local DFLers warmed up the crowd. And a not-so-local DFLer took the stage, too. Some of the biggest cheers of the night went to Walter Mondale, the former vice president.

Mondale told the crowd that the Republican ticket looks to the past, and the Democratic ticket looks to the future.

"In a moment you're going to see young, strong, smart, positive, good, kind and caring American looking for the future. If you want to look backward, look at the Republican vice president that you've got today," Mondale said. "I don't want to pick on him, but he is sour and negative and backward-looking. And what is worse, he's using my office in the White House -- and I want to get somebody good in there."

What would be good for our economy would be to outsource George Bush and Dick Cheney.
- John Edwards

When John Edwards took the stage he hit on some familiar themes, like the cost of prescription drugs and the war in Iraq. But he made several comments that were tailored for his northern Minnesota audience. Several times, Edwards drew parallels between the iron mines of Minnesota and the textile mills of his native North Carolina.

"My father worked in a mill all his life. I was lucky enough to be the first person in my family to go to college. But I saw what happened when the mill in my hometown closed. I saw what that meant to the families, to the communities," Edwards said. "All these Washington politicians can talk all they want about re-education programs, training programs. Say that to a 55-year-old man or woman who've worked all their lives to support their families, who've been good and responsible."

Dozens of people in the crowd waved signs reading, "Sportsmen for Kerry." The signs weren't blue, like most Kerry signs -- they were printed in green camouflage. John Edwards told the crowd that a Kerry White House will work to protect the "rural way of life."

"That includes making sure -- and John Kerry and I will do that -- making sure that your rights, that your ability to hunt and fish is protected, making sure that you can go into national parks and national forests and ride on a snowmobile, or walk. We're going to protect your rights," said Edwards.

After the rally, Leon Gladen said he liked what he heard. He's retired, and he lives in Hibbing.

"I like to hunt and fish and I don't want to see that infringed. Outsourcing of jobs, medical care, of course we've heard all of that before, but those are things that I think are important," Gladen said.

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Image Faces in the crowd

Leon Gladen says he's skeptical of Kerry and Edwards' claims that they'll make prescriptions and medical treatment cheaper. He says that's an awfully difficult task. Still, he'd like to see the Democratic ticket get a chance to try to keep those promises.

As Edwards spoke, the Iron Range and the surrounding area were about to be bombarded by a radio ad questioning the Democratic ticket's commitment to northern Minnesota.

The Minnesota Taxpayers League's first broadcast ad of the campaign, to debut Wednesday and run through Election Day, attacks John Kerry as a "Massachusetts liberal" who would take away northerners' snowmobiles and guns and be bad for logging and mining.

"Imagine John Kerry in the White House," the ad says. "Mining? It's hard enough hit already. Logging? How many spotted owls does it take to ruin an economy. Hunting? Hello gun control. Snowmobiling and ATVs? Say `Bye-bye."'

David Strom, the group's president, said the ad would run a total of 500 times in the markets of Duluth, Cloquet, Virginia, Hibbing, Ely, International Falls, Grand Rapids and Brainerd. Strom said the buy cost the group $8,000.

Edwards is the first of the four top-of-the-ticket candidates who will visit Minnesota before the end of the week. President Bush appears in Rochester Wednesday, John Kerry will be in Minneapolis Thursday, and Vice President Dick Cheney makes a stop in Rosemount Friday.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

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