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Weighing the value of candidate visits
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These are just a few of the people who have attended campaign rallies for President Bush and his Democratic rival, John Kerry, in Minnesota over the past several weeks. They and their running mates have made more than two dozen visits -- so far. (MPR file photo)
President Bush is due back in Minnesota Saturday. Both the president and Sen. John Kerry have been frequent visitors to Minnesota throughout the presidential campaign. Political scientists say with the election just days away visits by the candidate can boost standings in the polls. They also say the campaign rallies go a long way toward bolstering voter turnout.

St. Paul, Minn. — Without exception, every one of the presidential candidate visits has successfully delivered cheering, sign waving crowds -- exactly the images the Republicans and Democrats have worked painstakingly to control.

No matter what the candidates have said, they've drawn wild applause -- even when they said the wrong thing.

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Image Oct. 20 -- Bush in Rochester

Take, for example, President Bush last summer in Duluth, trying to snare votes from Minnesota's Democratic-leaning Iron Range.

"And I'm really glad to be back," Bush said. "I appreciate the good folks from Minnesota and the Iron Ridge and northern Wisconsin who are with us today. Thanks for coming."

The candidates often try to use humor to connect with supporters. And they haven't had to actually be funny to get laughs. Here's John Kerry last week in downtown Minneapolis.

"You guys are close to getting flu vaccines, and the reason that you're getting close to getting flu vaccines is because you're next door to Canada -- Canada has them!"

So what, beyond an ego boost, do the presidential candidates get out of their brief visits?

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Image Oct. 21 -- Kerry in Minneapolis

"There are a couple of clear things you can count on," said former Minnesota Rep. Vin Weber. Weber is a top national Republican strategist and a close adviser to the Bush-Cheney re-election effort. "No. 1, you can count on dominating the local news, particularly when you're the incumbent president of the United States. And that's no small matter in the final days of a campaign," said Weber.

"The second thing might seem like a small one, but it's really not, in an election in which turnout matters so much. If you see thousands and maybe tens of thousands of activists up close, they'll go out there and they'll work harder. That probably is of more value at this stage in a campaign than it is at an earlier stage in a campaign," says Weber.

Carleton College political science professor Steven Schier says these quick-stop visits, and all of the media attention they generate, generally translate into a measurable bump in the polls, but only in the short term.

"It usually lasts only a day or two in tracking polls, and then it tends to disappear," Schier said, "so you can see that candidates are attempting to sort of pump up that support."

Once starved for presidential campaign attention, many Minnesotans by now may have had their fill of the race for the White House in 2004. Imagine the people charged with figuring out ways to pay for hosting the candidates.

If you see thousands and maybe tens of thousands of activists up close, they'll go out there and they'll work harder.
- Republican strategist Vin Weber

The Minnesota State Patrol has motorcade responsibilities. Officials there say they've handled much of the job by diverting troopers from their regular assignments. They say they won't have an additional cost figure until well after the election, but a lot of troopers are owed days off for working extra hours without overtime.

The city of Rochester has hosted five candidate visits -- two by Kerry, two by President Bush, and one by Vice President Dick Cheney.

City administrator Stevan Kvenold says it's been expensive. He says it's cost Rochester taxpayers nearly $90,000 in unreimbursed expenses -- that's almost 20 percent of the city's entire contingency budget.

"It does present us some problems in that we're in a budget year, where because of the state budget crisis we were restricted on the amount of property taxes that we could raise," said Kvenold. "So we've had to reduce local government aid. So we're in a budget year where we've had to reduce service and increase fees and try to get by with what we can. So it does cause us a burden."

Counting Saturday's rally at the Target Center, President Bush will have campaigned eight times in Minnesota this year. John Kerry has also made eight stops -- so far.

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