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A year in the life of a swing state
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The 2004 presidential race proved Democrats and Republicans now view Minnesota as a state that could go either way. (MPR File photo)
Until 2004 Minnesota had largely been on the sidelines when it came to contested states in presidential elections, at least for the past couple of generations anyway. Sure Minnesota has had some big-name national politicians -- Mondale, Humphrey, McCarthy -- but until recently the state had been taken for granted by both parties as a solidly Democratic in presidential politics. The 2004 presidential race proved Democrats and Republicans now view Minnesota as a state that could go either way. That's why the presidential campaigns spent so much time and money here.

St. Paul, Minn. — It's nearly a year and a half before the 2004 presidential election and Minnesota's significance in the race for the White House is beginning to show itself.

President Bush swoops into town for a mid-June speech in suburban Minneapolis. The president's visits had been announced just days earlier.

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Image The money man

Bush speaks at a manufacturer's warehouse against the backdrop of American flags and signs reading "Jobs and Growth." He promotes the recently-passed Republican tax cuts as the solution to the weak economy.

"Right here in Minnesota companies are adjusting withholding tables so that the working folks in this state will see more take-home pay. Tax relief not only means more take home pay but if you happen to be a mom or a dad with young children you'll see the child credit go up from $600 a child to $1,000 a child and a lot of those checks are going to be in the mail to you for the differential this July."

The White House says the trip is official business. But Democrats are angry with its timing. They says it's Bush's first campaign stop in Minnesota.

The Minnesota DFL had expected the spotlight would shine on Democrats that week, because the Association of State Democratic Chairs' annual summer meeting was taking place in St. Paul and topping the agenda were speeches by most of the Democratic presidential hopefuls, among them former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.

"I actually believe that I may be the only person who can win because I did not support the president's policy in Iraq," Dean proclaimed.

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Image The frontrunner... then.

Massachusetts Senator John Kerry addressed the group via satellite.

"I will provide a health care plan to all Americans," he said.

DFL Chairman Mike Erlandson accused President Bush of trying to overshadow Democrats.

"This trip today into town, it's all about not letting the Democratic candidates get too much coverage from the national media and the local media in the Midwest as the president tries to bolster his reelection numbers," he said.

About 2,000 Bush supporters packed the warehouse to cheer on the president. Among them businessman Keith Klein, who owns a manufacturing company in Big Lake.

"I liked him. I'm a small-business owner and the words he's speaking are just what we need to hear right now," he said.

But outside Democrats protested.

Wayne Bailey of Minneapolis sarcastically billed himself as a "billionaire for Bush."

"What they're doing, it's the economy of insanity, is that we're going to just drain money from the lower classes up to the wealthy and they're not even hiding it and they're saying it's going to create a better economy. It's insanity," he said.

But Bush supporters were outside as well, including two young girls, clad in red, white and blue.

Most people having experienced the 2004 campaign would probably say we wish we were back in the good old days when we weren't the center of attention, the kind of bombardment of both visits of all of the candidates and the television ads, the attack ads, all of that gave a profit margin to our local television channel but it gave to us a headache.
- Hy Berman

The competing demonstrations, while orderly, spoke to the sharp political division in Minnesota between Republicans and Democrats, polarization that would only grow throughout the campaign.


That third week in June 2003, the head of state Republican Party correctly predicted President Bush would campaign frequently in Minnesota leading up to November 2004 election. And chairman Ron Eibensteiner labeled each of the president's Democratic challengers "too liberal" to win.

"I don't think there is any of them, of the nine who are currently running for president, that have the wherewithal to defeat President Bush in the general election. We really don't care who they nominate, we feel that they're all very liberal."

Eibensteiner and Republican strategists in Washington, were still riding high from the 2002 U.S. Senate election when GOP candidate Norm Coleman beat Democratic icon Walter Mondale following Sen. Wellstone death in a plane crash.

Coleman's victory, coupled with Bush's strong showing in Minnesota the 2000 election, left Republicans convinced they could win the state in 2004. They said it would be the first time a Republican presidential candidate would carry Minnesota since Richard Nixon in 1972.

Over the next 14 months Bush would campaign nine more times in Minnesota -- the exact number of times Democratic challenger John Kerry would come to the state.

"It was very significant," says University of Minnesota historian Hy Berman, who says not since the 1950s has Minnesota been considered a swing state and the business of politics two generations ago was nothing like today's media blitzkriegs.

"I think most people having experienced the 2004 campaign would probably say we wish we were back in the good old days when we weren't the center of attention, the kind of bombardment of both visits of all of the candidates and the television ads, the attack ads, all of that gave a profit margin to our local television channel but it gave to us a headache," according to Berman.


Early on, the president and his Democratic challengers concentrated on raising money. John Kerry made an appearance in Minneapolis in early August 2003.

Kerry spoke at the home of long-time DFL activists and big-money contributors Sam and Sylvia Kaplan. He thanked supporters who earlier in the summer gathered for a fund-raiser the Massachusetts senator was unable to attend.

"If you add up the record of this administration -- and I'm going to ad it up all across this country on a daily basis -- the conclusion is clear: the one person in the United States of America, who deserves to be laid off is George Bush," Kerry said.

Kaplan says Kerry raised about $300,000 that summer in Minnesota.

Later in August President Bush was back in Minnesota. He raked in nearly $1.5 million at a noontime state fair-themed gathering at the River Centre in downtown St. Paul.

"I appreciate such a huge response for our invitation to come for a little light meal," he said.

Supporters washed down pronto pups with lemonade, and cheered on the president for his efforts to strengthen national security and cut taxes. Both issues would be core themes of Bush's re-election campaign.

"I'm loosening up and getting ready for the campaign, but they're going to be plenty of time for politics. Because I've got a job to do. I'm focused on the people's business and we have a lot on our agenda in Washington D.C."

Minnesota Public Radio and the St. Paul Pioneer Press commissioned the first polling on the 2004 presidential race in Minnesota. Mason Dixon surveyed registered voters at the end of the January. Asked about a Bush-Kerry match up, 43 percent said they would vote for Kerry, compared to 41 percent for Bush.

That first poll proved indicative of all of Mason Dixon's polling on the contest in Minnesota over the next 10 months.

"The race remained very, very close from the time we started tracking it in January when Kerry became the apparent Democratic front runner all the way through to our final poll," according to Mason Dixon managing director Brad Coker, who says early voter surveys also showed the vast majority of Minnesotans had made up their minds long before aggressive campaigning had begun.


"And Minnesota wasn't unique in that respect. We saw the same things in other states particularly in the Upper Midwest; in Iowa and Wisconsin that were also battleground states in that area of the country. People pretty much picked their man early."

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Image Caucus night

By caucus time in Minnesota, ambitious organizing efforts by Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich proved no match for Kerry who'd been on a roll since winning the Iowa caucuses.

To shore up Minnesota Kerry rallied supporters at Macalester College a week before Democratic activists would gather to choose their candidate. In front of about 1,000 people Kerry declared Minnesota still a Democratic state. "You didn't vote for Reagan. You didn't vote for Dole. You never voted for anybody called Bush, and in 2004 you have a chance to vote for a Democrat and send George Bush back to Texas where he belongs," Kerry said.

Days later Minnesota DFL activists turned out to party caucuses in huge numbers -- four times as many as the 2000 election, according to party leaders who called it their best caucus showing since the Vietnam era. There were even caucus night parties.

"Four more years of Bush is scary. Vote for John; vote for Kerry," chanted Deborah Whitman, who greeted some south Minneapolis caucus-goers with a Kerry sign and spoke with urgency about defeating Bush.

"I have a child with disabilities, very severe disabilities and I'm scared to death if we do not get the Democrats mobilized and get Bush out of office that he will lose all of his rights to education, any kind of help with insurance that we get."

Shortly before the caucuses began, John Edwards all but conceded. Kerry won a majority of activists support, locking in Minnesota's delegates. And nationally the Massachusetts senator had secured the Democratic nomination to take on Bush.

Republicans, with no competition on their ticket, used caucus night to organize activists for. And party chairman Eibensteiner reiterated his prediction Bush would win Minnesota.

In late April Bush made his final fund-raising appearance in Minnesota. The invitation-only event at the Edina home of a real estate developer, was closed to reporters and raked in $1 million for a national GOP campaign fund.

"My job was to raise the money... and I did," said former Republican Sen. Rudy Boschwitz, who was among a handful of president Bush's top fund-raisers around the nation. Boschwitz helped raise money throughout the Midwest. He served as finance chairman for the president's campaign in Minnesota.

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Image Speaking and raising money

"George Bush was one of the easier people to raise funds for. People really believed apparently. They believed on both sides of the aisle and that's just fine. That's the way it should be in the political process and raising money for George Bush was easier than some other candidates in the past."

About the same amount of Minnesota money was flowing into the Kerry campaign as was going to the president.

A week after Bush's fund-raiser, Kerry was in Minneapolis raising money.

"We're here to mark the beginning of the end of the Bush administration. That's what this is about," Kerry said.

A staple of Kerry's stump speech would become his call for rolling back the Republican-sponsored tax cuts and directing the revenue to a variety of domestic programs.

"We're going to invest in education, health care, job creation right here at home."

Weeks after the election Sam Kaplan remembers well that May fund-raiser.

"We had a terrific argument with the national leadership who said, 'we don't want to send him there unless you can raise $500,000.' We said, 'listen, we're a small town,' and we were a little bit annoyed to be truthful with you because at that point in time we were the state that had raised the most money per capita from Democrats for Kerry and we thought they shouldn't be telling us what we could or couldn't do. But anyhow we exceeded their request and we set a goal of a $500,000, but we raised $1.6 million.

Like Boschwitz on the Republican side, Kaplan says convincing people to contribute to Kerry was much less of a challenge that he expected.

"Normally we have to call people again and again and again asking them for contributions. I jokingly said I felt like Ticketmaster. They would call me asking me where shall I send the money?" Boschwitz said.

According to the campaign finance watchdog group the Center for Responsive Politics, individual contributions to the Bush campaigns of more than $200 totaled a little more than $2.5 million. Kerry's numbers came in close to $3 million.

In addition to the cash, the campaigns were inundated with volunteers doing whatever was needed from stuffing envelopes to staffing telephone banks and canvassing neighborhoods.


Increasingly the campaigns talked about the importance of certain blocks of voters -- suburban women, veterans, undecided voters. With Bush and Kerry in a dead heat and almost everyone already decided on the race, capturing any one group could win the election.

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Image Rally for vets

The Bush campaign had settled into sharp attacks on Kerry's national security record, accusing the decorated Vietnam veteran of being weak on national defense.

Kerry concentrated more on domestic issues such as the economy, and the increasing cost of health care. People with televisions in battleground states like Minnesota saw hundreds of commercials.

"Few votes in Congress are as important as funding our troops at war," President Bush said in one commercial. "Though John Kerry voted in October 2002 for military action in Iraq, he later voted against funding our soldiers."

At the end of May the latest MPR-Pioneer press poll showed Bush and Kerry were locked in a statistical dead heat. That poll also showed more than 85 percent of Minnesotans had chosen a candidate.

In June, Kerry launched an 11-day "National Security Tour" with a rally at the University of Minnesota. He accused Bush of bungling foreign relations and rushing to war with Iraq.

"If you will trust me with the presidency I will put back in place the principle that the United States of America never goes to war because it wants to, we only go to war because we have to and that is the standard that we should live by."

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Image Downtown Cloquet in July

A month later Kerry was back in Minnesota to court another block of voters -- rural Americans.

"I can't tell you how excited I am to kick off our celebration of America right here in north east Minnesota in the heartland. Thank you for the honor or being here."

Kerry launched his so-called "Celebrating the Spirit of America Tour" from downtown Cloquet just outside of Duluth.

"We're going to visit towns, we're going to visit farms, we're going to march in parade, we're going to eat BBQ, we're going to play a little baseball and we're going to celebrate who we are. And I'll tell you what -- we're going to honor the values that built our country and strengthened our communities; family, responsibility, service --- these are values that are rooted in the heartland," Kerry said.


Like most campaign appearances, the Cloquet rally was a made-for-TV event. It was the beginning of the 4th of July holiday weekend. Flags, balloons and red, white and blue banners hung everywhere. Even though the weather was picture perfect; warm, sunny with a deep blue sky, the campaign had huge movie set lights on hand just in case.

"We're here in this street today, kids and adults, waving American flags, holding out our dreams because we believe in our guts, in our hearts, that all Americans are deserving of an equal shot at the American dream, not just a few."

In what over the next four months felt at times like tit-for-tat drop-ins by the two presidential candidates, George Bush appeared in nearby Duluth in mid-July, less than two weeks later after Kerry's Cloquet rally.

"I appreciate the good folks from northern Minnesota and the Iron Ridge and northern Wisconsin who are with us today. Thanks for coming. By the looks of things, I'm in Bush-Cheney country," Bush said.

Thousands of supporters packed the Duluth Convention Center. None of them, some no doubt from the Iron Range, took offense to the president's Iron ridge mis-step.

More than any previous stop, Bush ridiculed Kerry and the newly crowned Democratic vice presidential candidate, North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.

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Image The crowd in Duluth

"If you disagree with my opponent on most any issue, you may just have caught him on the wrong day," Bush said.

Like Kerry's appearances, Bush campaign stops were carefully choreographed so that the TV image would show packed spaces of cheering supporters. But unlike Kerry events, the Bush-Cheney campaign limited access to its rallies only to supporters or to people whom campaign officials found "open" to the president's message.

"Recently here in the Midwest he even tried to claim he was the candidate with conservative values. It's a bit hard to square that with my opponents previous statement when he said 'I'm liberal and proud of it.' Now he has a running mate. Sen. Kerry is rated as the most liberal member of the United States Senate and he chose a fellow lawyer who is the fourth-most-liberal member of the United States Senate. Back in Massachusetts that's what they call balancing the ticket," he said.


In Duluth security screeners had posted pictures of a few local activists at entrances to the convention center, among them Joel Sipress, a University of Wisconsin- Superior history professor who lives in Duluth and who once ran for the Minnesota Senate as a Green Party candidate.

"It was a little unnerving I have to admit," he said.

The Secret Service gave no explanation for circulating Sipress's picture, even after the Duluth City Council passed a resolution asking for one. The agency also declined comment for this report.

Sipress who insisted he does not have a criminal record says he never planned to attend or disrupt the Bush rally. He was busy organizing a legal demonstration at the Duluth City Hall, blocks away from the Convention Center.

"It says a lot about the nature of the Bush administration that they would only want supporters at their campaign events but if that's the kind of presidency that he wants, he has even right and if that's the kind of campaign he wants, he has every right to run that kind of campaign. However the Secret Service is one of our most powerful federal law enforcement bodies and it sets a very, very dangerous precedent if a federal agency with that level of power essentially becomes an arm of the Bush campaign and begins investigating political opponents of the president we've entered some very dangerous ground," he said.

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Image Head of the campaign

By the middle of summer the Bush and Kerry campaigns' Minnesota operations had thousands of volunteers working to drum up support for the candidates. Both say they put together unprecedented volunteer efforts with as many as 50,000 people working for each side.

"We ran the largest grassroots campaign in the history of Minnesota politics," says Ken Martin, who served as Kerry's Minnesota political director. "We had more volunteers than any campaign in the history of Minnesota politics."

Ben Whitney, the executive director of Bush's Minnesota campaign, says the Republicans took a page -- maybe several chapters -- from the DFL's grassroots campaign book.

"We don't have a long history necessarily of the kind of massive turnout that the Democrats have. We had to build the organization and then we had to test the organization and then we had to use it and that took time but it worked very, very well," he said.

And the two campaigns say they both relied on sophisticated marketing techniques to zero in on potential supporters in areas that would have previously been ceded to the opposition.

"It used to be you'd focus on the areas; you'll call them fortress precincts where you could just go after where you are winning by 65 percent and then you would do a massive effort into that area because you know you'd be talking to, two out of three people you'd be talking to would be supporters, now you really don't have to do that if you're smart," he said.

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Image Got tips from... the DFL

"It's an old thing done that's done in direct marketing, which is using consumer data to find out what people do, you know what subscriptions they may subscribe to, what places they may belong to and that will give you and once you match that with the voter information you have it gives you a pretty good idea about who they're likely to support."

Specific consumer information also allowed the campaigns to customize their messages to a particular voter's concerns. At the end of July delegates to the Democratic National Convention formally nominated their candidate.

"I'm John Kerry and I'm reporting for duty," Kerry said as he accepted his party's nomination.

Soon after the convention a group of Bush supporters released a scathing TV ad accusing Kerry of lying about his military service and dishonoring his nation.

The $500,000 Swift boat ad was miniscule relative to the ten of millions of dollars that the campaigns, political parties and independent groups were pouring into commercials but it attracted enormous attention.

And it came at a time the Kerry campaign pulled back its TV advertising to save money for the final stretch of the race. That August also marked two presidential visits to Minnesota in as many weeks. The president was first in southern Minnesota, then in the Twin Cities.

In Mankato, the president ticked off themes of his re-election campaign that had become staples of his stump speech; health care, education and tort reform along with strong national defense and lower taxes.

"We have much more to do to move America forward. I want to be your president for four more years to make our country safer, to make our economy stronger and to make the future brighter and better for every single citizen," Bush said.

Two weeks later before 15,000 supporters at the Xcel Center in downtown St. Paul, Bush gave another increasingly familiar stump speech, heavy on national security and justifications for the war in Iraq.

"So I had a choice to make, either to forget the lessons of September the 11th and trust a mad man who is a sworn enemy of America, or take action necessary to defend this country. Given that choice I will defend America every time."

The Bush and Kerry campaigns relied heavily on surrogates when the President and Massachusetts senator were not available.

Former Democratic senator and Vietnam veteran Max Cleland of Georgia traveled the nation on behalf of Kerry and made more than one stop in Minnesota along the way.

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Image Reporting for duty

In mid-August the day Bush spoke at the Xcel center, Cleland held a veterans rally at the state Capitol. The triple amputee's job was to challenge Bush's rhetoric on Iraq.

"We don't need what we've got now, somebody who commits troops, stands up and plays dress up on an aircraft carrier which he doesn't know anything about. And three weeks into the war says 'mission accomplished,' 'bring em on.' Oh yeah, oh yeah: 'bring em on.'" Cleland said.

But weeks after the election the Kerry campaign acknowledges in the late summer Bush's message was resonating with a critical block of voters -- so called "security moms," suburban women with newfound post 9-11 worries about terrorism.

Kerry's Minnesota political director Ken Martin remembers it as a troubling low point of the campaign.

"We were getting our butts kicked with married women, parents who were concerned about the war and it was not on out radar screen until that point and we really had to shift our focus in terms of how we talked to those parents and those female voters in the suburbs on Iraq and on terrorism," he says.

While Martin says internal polling showed Bush and Kerry remained statistically neck and neck, Bush was gaining and the trend was troubling for Democrats. Not until the debates, which began at the end of September, Martin says, was Kerry able to turn around the image he was weak on national defense.

"And it was an interesting phenomenon because that we were able to swing them back our way but had we not be able to Minnesota could have gone the other way pretty easily."

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Image Working for the farm vote


Political pundits and back-room strategists became almost obsessed with theories about what undecided voters were looking for. The thinking was that with Bush and Kerry splitting the vote down the middle, it would be the roughly 10% of the electorate yet to decide on the race that would ultimately determine the outcome in November.

University of Minnesota political science professor Larry Jacobs surveyed hundreds of undecided voters in Upper Midwestern battleground states including Minnesota.

"When swing voters, as do many other voters, look out at these two major party candidates for president, they tend to see two presidencies. On national security issues they like Bush. On domestic issues they decidedly liked Kerry. So they're kind of schizophrenic in the kind of president they would want. Each candidate is trying offset their disadvantage and play to their strong suit," according to Jacobs.

In late August, with the election now just a little more than two months away, the Kerry campaign set out very publicly to go after undecided Minnesota voters. They arranged what they billed as a town hall forum in Anoka where undecided voters could listen to Kerry and ask him questions.

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Image Surrogates pitch in

Organizers claimed they went to great lengths to stack the crowd with truly undecided voters. Unlike other events, participants were told to leave campaign signs and buttons at home. Still, judging from an informal survey of the group, it seemed most were Democrats who were backing Kerry.

The topic was to be health care. Kerry outlined his proposal to spend roughly $3/4 of a trillion over 10 years to make health care more affordable and accessible.

When it came for the question-and-answer session, members of the audience took the discussion in several directions. Asked what he would do with Iraq, Kerry said he would immediately convene an international commission to create a plan. And said a change in the White House could lead to improved foreign relations and more help in Iraq.

"I believe this from the things that have come to me through colleagues of mine in the Senate, business people who've traveled abroad, others that the world needs a president with new credibility with a fresh start who didn't get us in there who has the ability to bring people to a difference place to get us out of there and that's what I will do," Kerry said.

As Kerry worked voters in Anoka, some Republicans were busy mocking the Democrat on opening day at the State Fair.

"Stop by and get you John Kerry flip-flop on a stick; guaranteed to give you more indigestion than a deep fried Twinkie on a stick," shouted one activist, as he walked around sandwiched between to gigantic flip-flop sandals.

"What we're trying to do today is just to have a little bit of fun at the fair and also to highlight the fact that John Kerry has a record of flip-flops, he voted to send our troops to Iraq and yet voted against the $87 billion to help to fight the war on terror," said Minnesota GOP spokesman Randy Wanke.

At the forum in Anoka an audience member asked Kerry point blank about Swift Boat ad claims and the broader charges of flip-flopping.

"There are two main negative themes in the ads right now, one if that you waffle on the issues and the other is that you're not telling the truth in you waffle on the issues, are you telling the truth in Vietnam?"

"I am absolutely telling you the God's honest truth about what happened and what took place over there as are the other people who laid it out correctly over the last days," Kerry replied. "With respect to the waffling... let me just give I to you very quickly. Here are the three of four things. One is on NAFTA. I did vote for NAFTA, but I criticize it today the way it's applied because there are three provisions in NAFTA, which are enforceable about labor standards, and they ought to be enforced. And it's not waffling to say that something that you voted for that they're not doing properly ought to be done properly. It's like No Child Left Behind. I just told you, 'I think we ought to fix it,' we ought to be applied in the right way but I told you up front that I think we have to move in that direction and do those standards."

The forum went on for nearly two hours. Campaign staffers and some of the people who were there found its relaxed format well suited for Kerry who often came across at a monotonous, stuffed shirt in standard stump speeches.

Kerry supporter Sam Kaplan.

"I wish that there had been more time and there wasn't this crush to always have a stump speech. He speaks so beautifully. He is poetic in what he says and how he characterizes the issues he deals with. He's so thoughtful. I'm not sure that always came through on the stump."

Kerry held another informal health care discussion in Rochester in early September.

President Bush was back in Minnesota for a mid-September bus tour from St. Cloud to Rochester. Bush had been likening Kerry's health care plan to a government takeover of the health care system. In the northern suburb of Blaine, Bush promoted medical savings accounts in the context of personal responsibility.

"Think about this. This has got a built in incentive, doesn't it, for right choices in life. I mean for example if you watch that money in your own account begin to dwindle, you might want to walk a little more on a daily basis. Take to the foot in order to make yourself more healthy. In other words there's kind of a preventive medicine built into a plan when it says my money I choose."

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Image State Fair dust-up

The day Bush was in Minnesota, independent candidate Ralph Nader held a series of events in the Twin Cities.

Nader, who won more than 5 percent of the vote as a Green Party candidate in Minnesota in the 2000 election, told reporters he anticipated a good showing come election day 2004. Nader also said Kerry could boost Democratic fortunes by adopting a more populist agenda.

"Nobody wants to retire Bush more than I. We have citizen groups who feel the brunt of his corporatist regime every."

But polls showed Nader struggling in '04 with a considerable drop-off in support.

Along with Kerry and the president, Democratic and Republican surrogates kept coming. Between the vice presidential candidates, their wives, the first lady and Theresa Heinz-Kerry there were more than 20 visits, and that doesn't count the stream of cabinet secretaries, movie stars and rock stars.

In late September Bush's twin daughters were in Minnesota trying to soften the president's image with homespun stories about their dad.

"My dad is extremely disciplined and always on time, this didn't always work to our advantage, especially when we missed curfew, by from running a marathon at age 45 to reading the Bible daily, to giving up his greatest passion: cheesecake, my dad has sown us the importance of leading a disciplined life," said Jenna Bush.


By the end of September it was time for the first of the three presidential debates. Around the county and in Minnesota activists held debate watching parties.

For Kerry supporters, the evening brought reason to celebrate. Face to face with the president for the first time, Kerry came out confident and swinging. Kerry ripped Bush on Iraq. The president came off as irritated and defensive and Bush's frowns and scowls during the debate dominated news coverage.

The day after the second debate President Bush campaigned in Chanhassen before a huge crowd of supporters.

"There is no doubt in my mind, with your help, we will carry Minnesota and win a great victory in November," he said.

With First Lady Laura Bush at his side, Bush, apparently pleased with his improved showing over the first debate, joked about efforts he made to avoid scowling the previous evening.

"You know after listening to his litany of complaints and his dower pessimism, it was all I could do not to make a bad face."

It was Bush's sixth campaign appearance in Minnesota of the year. He would return two more times before Election Day.

Just as Republicans maintained they were on track to make news by finally shifting Minnesota to the Republican column, Democrats held steadfast in their contention that the Republican president's visits were actually helping Kerry.

"Every time that the president comes to town it's just another opportunity for us to point out his failures on the economy, on health care, on jobs on what the situation in Iraq is," said Stacy Paxton, who headed the Kerry campaign's Minnesota press office.

Then in less than two weeks Bush was back for an appearance in Rochester where he promoted his economic policy.

"I led, and the Congress responded, with tax relief. Tax relief was vital. It encouraged consumption. It encouraged investment and the recession was one of the shallowest in history."

Not to be outdone by the president, Kerry was in Minnesota the next day. An estimated 30,000 people turned out to see him at a rally outside of the Metrodome.

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Image Face to face

"This president doesn't have a record he can run on, he has a record he can run away from and that's exactly what he's doing," Kerry said.

Less than a week later Kerry was in Rochester for his final stop in Minnesota before Election Day. At the time, the issue of missing explosives in Iraq was dominating the news and Kerry pounced.

"Your administration was warned. You were put on notice but you didn't put these explosives on a priority list. You didn't think it was important. You didn't check for them. You didn't give the troops the instructions they needed. You didn't put enough troops on the ground to do that job. You didn't guard the ammunitions dump and now our troops are at risk."

The Bush campaign accused Kerry of making wild charges without knowing the facts.


By now the city of Rochester had hosted President Bush and Sen. Kerry each two times. Vice President Dick Cheney had also campaigned there. City administrator Stevan Kvenvold says Rochester incurred about $90,000 in unreimbursed expenses accommodating the candidates. That's nearly a fifth of city's entire contingency budget.

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

The Minnesota State Patrol, which had motorcade responsibilities for every major visit, also spent nearly $90,000 over the course of the campaign, not counting the cost fuel.

Finally with the election just three days away the last MPR-Pioneer Press poll harbored no surprises. Bush and Kerry remained locked in a dead heat. 48% of registered Minnesota voters said they supported the president. 47 percent were for Kerry.

That weekend before Tuesday's election would also mark President Bush's final campaign stop in Minnesota. It was Bush's eighth trip to the state in 2004, more campaign visits than any Republican president candidate in history and the same number of times in 2004 that John Kerry had campaigned in the state.

The president used some of his time on stage at the Target Center in downtown Minneapolis to plea for support from the other side.

"There are a lot of Democrats who just like you want America just like you want America to be a safer, stronger and better place. When you get people headed to the polls, remind them if they want a safer America, a stronger America and a better America put Dick Cheney and me back in office."

So after months of campaign visits, thousands of commercials, hundreds of thousands of phone calls and mailings, the 2004 presidential campaign was almost over.

For campaign staffers and legions of volunteers the final hours before polls opened and election day itself marked what both campaigns claim were unparalleled efforts to get out the vote.

Many volunteers took vacation time to help their candidate.

At a phone bank in Minnetonka, college Republicans placed last-minute calls to voters. The leader of the group, Jake Grassel, told students to put off schoolwork until after the election and instead concentrate on delivering Minnesota to President Bush.

"We need to try to get every amount, every last drop of energy out of every volunteer everybody who wants to help out."

And all of the efforts paid off for Republicans and Democrats. While shy of the record, the Secretary of State's office reported 77 percent of eligible Minnesota voters cast ballots -- the highest percentage since 1960.

Early exit polling suggested Kerry was on his way a big victory in Minnesota and ultimately to the White House. But that polling proved wildly inaccurate.

John Kerry lost the election.

He won Minnesota, though, by 3.5 percentage points and Democrats celebrated their hard fought victory election night at a hotel in downtown Minneapolis.

Despite the challenge from Republicans, Minnesota clung to its Democratic tradition, as it has in presidential contests since the early 1970s.

"First of all let me say thank you so very, very much for all of your hard work. The great state of Minnesota is a blue state," declared DFL Party Chairman Mike Erlandson.

The Republicans said that Kerry may well have lost nationally because he had to spend so much time and money just to win Minnesota, a state not long ago Democratic presidential candidates took for granted.


In 2000 Bush lost Minnesota by less than 2.5 percentage points. Democrats say the additional support they won in 2004 is evidence Minnesota is trending back toward its strong Democratic tradition of the past half-century.

"The real hallmark for our campaign is that we did stop the Republican momentum," said Ken Martin from Kerry's Minnesota campaign. "The last three election cycles here in Minnesota, clearly the Republicans have been gaining momentum. We put an end to that. In fact I think the pendulum is swinging back to our side."

But Republicans underscore that Independent Ralph Nader ended up with less than 1 percent of the vote in 2004 compared with more than 5 percent in the 2000 election. Republicans say had voters who supported Nader in 2000 not gone for Kerry in '04, Bush could have carried the state.

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"I hope that the Democrats are sitting back in their easy chairs, taking it easy and believe that Minnesota is not going to be a battleground state."

"The trend in Minnesota is Republican," maintains Ben Whitney from the Bush-Cheney Minnesota campaign. "I think the trend will stay Republican, however, we will be a battleground state. It is a state that can go both ways."

"Would I rather be a battleground state? Absolutely not. I'd rather been known as a state the Democrats can count on."

And Democrat Sam Kaplan has doubts, after what happened in '04 that Minnesota will once again assume presidential swing state status in '08.

"I will be very interested to see what happens in 2008 here in Minnesota. I'm suspecting that they may decide not to deploy the enormous resources that they deployed here," he said.

But historian Hy Berman says judging from the past, it's likely Minnesota will remain a battleground state in national politics because most political changes happen gradually.

"Not only that but if you put in connection with Wisconsin and Iowa there are 27 electoral votes there. That's the same as Florida. So Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa are going to be in play in '08 just as they've been in play now unless something untoward, and dramatic happens that we can't predict. But given the tendencies, the trends, the historic background that we have at our disposal then there's no reason not to believe that Minnesota is going to be in play in '08. They're going to be in play."

Pollster Brad Coker from Mason Dixon agrees and he says demographic trends should concern Democrats.

"If these age patterns hold, that's correct."

Coker says, had the 2004 election in Minnesota been decided by voters age 35 to 49, Bush would have easily won the state's electoral votes by a double digit margin. Coker says that block of voters is positioned to play an increasingly important role in Minnesota politics.

"I think the state will become more an attractive target for Republicans and more competitive for Democrats to hold just because the older DFL voters are becoming fewer and fewer and the newer and younger residents who live in the outer suburbs have been voting, not voting Democrat they've either been voting Republican or in the case of Jesse Ventura, voting Republican."

The next statewide test of Minnesota voters is less than two years away when Minnesota's Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton are up for re-election. Both seats are expected to be fiercely contested.

Since taking office in January 2001, President Bush has traveled to Minnesota 15 times, initially to help Norm Coleman's Senate campaign. The Bush-Cheney '04 campaign manager, Ken Mehlman, says even through the election is over, Minnesotans will continue to regularly see president Bush. Mehlman, the president's choice to take over leadership of the Republican National Committee, says the GOP has "a real opportunity" to win Dayton's Senate seat and to keep the governor's mansion.

"There's no question in my mind, the president feels close to the people of Minnesota and you can expect him to see him coming a lot. Not only for politics but for policy," he said.

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