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Democrats got out their vote in Minnesota
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Todd Seabury-Kolod took Election Day off to encourage people to vote for John Kerry. (MPR Photo/Lorna Benson)
Supporters of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry won a bitter victory in Minnesota. Democrats here got out the vote the way they'd hoped, using strategies that fell short in other battleground states. The implications are mixed. By winning Minnesota, Kerry may have boosted state Democratic races. But he could well have hurt his own chance to become the next president.

St. Paul, Minn. — Minnesota Democrats campaigned like never before, putting more than 100,000 volunteers on phones and on foot to get out the vote. Even if Minnesotans tried to ignore their barrage of phone calls and door knocks, it was still nearly impossible to miss the DFL's army of sign-wavers, posted on bridges and busy street corners. Todd Seabury-Kolod of St. Paul was one of them. "I can compare it to 2002," says Seabury-Kolod. "Much broader support, more truckers giving toots than in 2002."

Besides urging Minnesotans to vote, DFLers drove more than a thousand voters to the polls. Non-party groups, like Minnesota ACT, also worked hard to bring out new, so-called "progressive" voters.

On Election Day, ACT organizers dispatched 59 Somali cab drivers to take mostly immigrants to their polling stations. Driver Yonis Warsame drove about a dozen Somalis. "I'm trying to help all those people you know and to vote you know the right person, you know. We know the right person, John Kerry," says Warsame.

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Image Free cab rides

Ubah Abdi, 27, got a ride from Warsame. She was excited about the prospect of casting her vote for John Kerry. "Yes. Yes. And my family and friends, we hope we get a right one. Yeah, he's the right one, John Kerry," says Abdi.

The number of Minnesotans registered to vote rose four percent from 2000. According to exit polls, these first-time presidential voters in Minnesota favored Kerry two-to-one over Bush.

In addition to partisan get-out-the-vote drives, Kerry also likely benefited from efforts that were officially party-neutral. The non-partisan Minnesota Participation Project trained nearly 2,000 volunteers in six Minnesota cities.

"What we're targeting are traditionally low-turnout districts," says organizer Marcia Avner. "Groups that traditionally don't vote, or don't vote regularly. Low-income communities, people for whom language might be an issue, people who are in communities of color or recent immigrants."

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Image New voter

There were a few Bush efforts to turn out new voters, notably in the Hmong community. But mostly the campaign focused on turning out its known base in Minnesota, using computer databases and phone calls. It's a tactic where success is hard to measure. Cosette Sundai was making calls for Bush on Election Day from a St. Paul call center. "Everyone we've talked to is going to vote, or has voted already," says Sundai. "I don't think anyone we've talked to has been undecided."

The turnout for Kerry might have lasting effects on the Minnesota Legislature. To nearly everyone's surprise, the DFL gained at least 13 seats in the Minnesota House, whittling state Republicans' majority to a razor thin margin. Republican House Speak Steve Swiggum thinks he knows why. "First of all a pretty significant turnout for John Kerry," says Swiggum. "A big turnout I don't think helped these members in any way, shape or form."

But supporters must wonder if a Kerry victory in Minnesota might actually have contributed to losing the country. Every dollar and every hour Kerry and groups like ACT spent turning out voters in Minnesota was one they couldn't spend in Ohio and Florida.

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Image Encouraging voters

Republican analyst Maureen Shaver says for Kerry the cost of voters in Minnesota might have been the election itself. "I'd love to say the Bush-Cheney team won. Their ground game was the best we've ever had in Minnesota," says Shaver. "The reality was Sen. Kerry should never have had to come back to Minnesota in the last week of this election, and he did."

Democratic supporters are consoling themselves with the fact that their efforts put thousands of new voters on the rolls in Minnesota. The challenge now will be keeping those voters engaged.

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