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St. Paul, Minn. — In the 2004 presidential election, John Kerry won 73 percent of the vote in St. Paul, a long-time Democratic stronghold. That dominant showing came no thanks to St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly, who endorsed President George W. Bush.
Kerry said he did not come to town to get back at Kelly for endorsing the president.
"I'm privileged to be here today, not to campaign against someone or something, but to campaign for a vision of how you build community, how you bring people together to build the partnerships necessary to build a future for our children, and the man to do that is Chris Coleman," Kerry said.
The senator from Massachusetts says Chris Coleman will fight against budget cuts to the city by a Republican administration.
Kerry said the Bush administration is taking the country in the wrong direction, and he said administration priorities are taking a toll on St. Paul. He cited the city's controversial decision, on Kelly's watch, to scale back its firefighting capacity.
Because of budget cuts, the city cut 14 firefighter positions two years ago, and earlier this year, decommissioned a fire engine.
"We shouldn't be closing down firehouses in America and opening them in Baghdad, folks. We ought to be fighting for what we need right here," said Kerry.
Kerry was playing to an ongoing fight between Mayor Kelly and the firefighters union, which has endorsed Coleman. Dozens of firefighters attended the rally.
The former Democratic presidential candidate also slammed the Bush administration on schools and public safety. He said the Bush administration is hurting St. Paul schools because it has not fully funded No Child Left Behind, the administration's signature education reform.
Kerry also said the federal government has cut the COPS program which funds community police officers.
Coleman also spoke, saying if he becomes mayor, he will bring change and hope to the city.
"I have hope that our city will be the great city that we know it can be. I have hope that every child in the city of St. Paul will reach their full potential," said Coleman. "And I have hope that as we rebuild and reclaim our city, everyone will have a place at the table."
Coleman also pledged to help Kerry if he's a candidate for president in 2008. But Kerry said he has "no idea" if he'll run again.
(Kelly's endorsement of Bush) unleashes a series of events that makes the last national presidential race reverberate in St. Paul in ways that I've never seen before.
- St. Olaf College political scientist Dan Hoffrening
Still, Kerry's trip to St. Paul is just one visit in a growing list of appearances across the country. Kerry has been stumping for mayoral candidates in California, New York, Iowa, and now Minnesota.
St. Olaf College political scientist Dan Hoffrening says these visits can be seen as testing the waters for a second presidential campaign.
"If they don't go well, that might help him decide not to," said Hoffrening. "You don't go to all these cities completely because you care about the issues. You go with an eye toward your own future as well."
Kerry's visit to St. Paul would reinforce his popularity here. Hofrenning says in his memory, he doesn't recall any mayoral race drawing as much national attention as the St. Paul campaign.
"I suppose it all started because of Randy Kelly's endorsement. Randy Kelly's a Democrat, St. Paul's predominantly a Democratic town, Randy Kelly goes out and endorses George Bush and unleashes a series of events that makes the last national presidential race reverberate in St. Paul in ways that I've never seen before," said Hoffrening.
For its part, Randy Kelly's campaign says the Kerry rally simply let voters know Coleman wants to "raise taxes and spend taxpayers' money."
Kelly has not backed off from his endorsement of Bush. But he recently asked St. Paul voters not to cast their ballots in anger over his support for the president.
Kelly's choice to endorse Bush may be increasingly awkward for his campaign, at a time when the president's approval ratings are down and administration aides and key Republican congressional leaders are caught up in investigations.