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Bush is pictured here talking about Medicare prescription drug benefits at an earlier town hall forum in Maple Grove. (MPR Photo/ Mark Zdechlik)
President Bush will visit 3M headquarters in Maplewood to promote his innovation and technology initiatives on Thursday. Democrats will mark the visit with a protest of what they say are failures of the Bush administration. Minnesota Republicans say these presidential visits fire-up the faithful and will help their candidates in the mid-term elections later this year.

Maplewood, Minn. — Like most of his previous 17 stops in Minnesota President Bush's visit on Thursday will be a brief one. He'll tour a 3M laboratory and will then deliver what the White House is billing, "remarks on American competitiveness."

White House spokesman Allen Abney says the speech is one of four taking place around the country this week following-up on Tuesday's State of the Union address.

"They are all similar in that he will be talking about themes that he brought up in the State of the Union, but they will each have their individual focus," Abeny says. "The Minnesota stop will be on innovation and technology. Others will touch on health care as well as energy issues."

Ron Carey, the chairman of the Republican Party of Minnesota chairman says having Bush in Minnesota as often as possible will strengthen GOP candidates in the state. From Rep. Mark Kennedy's U.S. Senate campaign to Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s bid for re-election and Republican legislative races, Carey says Bush can help give GOP candidates an edge going into the November election.

"The more time the president spends in the state, the more his message gets out (and) the more his approval ratings will go up," Carey says. "I would bet that by November of this year the president's going to be a great asset to the Republicans in the state and I certainly welcome him to Minnesota as often as he chooses to honor us with his presence."

Minnesota Democratic Party leaders say they too welcome the president's visits. DFL chairman Brian Melendez insists Bush visits actually help Democrats.

"When Democrats see George Bush, and now a days not just Democrats, they think about the war in Iraq and the quagmire he's gotten us into. They think about the rising deficit, they think about oil prices," Melendez says. "George Bush is an advertisement for the failures of his administration and when Democrats see that and when people who are not Democrats see that, they think we can do better and we need to."

Minnesotans first began seeing a lot of President Bush in 2002 as the White House worked to convince Minnesotans to elect Norm Coleman U.S. senator. Following the terrorist attacks in the fall of 2001, a Minnesota Poll registered Bush's approval rating at 87 percent. Since then that approval rating has plunged and Bush's popularity in Minnesota has consistently run below the national average.

A Rasmussen Report poll released last month clocked Bush's approval in Minnesota at just 35 percent.

Even so, Carleton College political scientist Steven Schier says having Bush in the state is not the liability for Republicans that Democrats claim it is.

Schier says the visits are designed to fire-up GOP loyalists in the hopes they'll mobilize Republican voters in November's mid-term elections. Schier predicts Minnesotans will once again see quite a bit of the president over the next nine months.

"This president is not the esteemed public figure he was four years ago when he had considerable capital and high job-approval ratings and was able to leverage that into success in the mid-term elections," Schier says. "Now he's in reduced circumstances politically, but that doesn't mean you abandon the field and give up trying to help candidates and your party."

The battle to replace outgoing Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn, is shaping up to be the most contested Senate race in the 2006 mid-term elections.

During a telephone interview this week with Minnesota Public Radio, Rep. Mark Kennedy, R-Minn., the GOP candidate for Dayton’s seat, responded this way when asked whether having the president in Minnesota helps or hurts his campaign: "I'm going to be running my campaign based on my issues and where I stand on those which is a fourth-generation Minnesotan that has grown-up in Minnesota and very much spending time back here every weekend," Kennedy said. "It's understanding those issues Minnesotans really care about and responding to those is what this campaign will be about."

President Bush was last in Minnesota in early December. On that trip he helped raise more than $1 million for Kennedy's campaign. Although fund raising is not on the Bush schedule this visit, both Republicans and Democrats claim the president's visits usually leads to a spike in political contributions.

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