A few presidential campaigns are organizing volunteers in Minnesota preparing for the state's precinct caucuses. Those campaigns are also paying a lot of attention to Iowa.
Among Democrats, Hillary Clinton supporters took a bus to Des Moines last month. Barack Obama supporters traveled south over the weekend. A campaign worker even tried to invite a reporter, whose name was inexplicably on her list.
"Hi Tim, my name is Brook, and I'm a volunteer with Obama for Minnesota," said the message on the phone. "I'm calling today to see if you're interested in going to Iowa with us on one of the upcoming Saturdays to to talk to voters about Barack."
On a cold Saturday morning last month, a group of John Edwards supporters gathered before sunrise in a St. Paul parking lot. They were heading to Des Moines for a weekend of door knocking. Dave Butcher drove all the way from Pequot Lakes to join other like-minded Democrats.
"Oh, I think John Edwards is really the only candidate who gets it," he said. "Our government is really overwhelmed and corrupted by big money. It's the best democracy money can buy, and I think we need to take care of that so that people can have a say and some decent programs."
Butcher sees Iowa as a critical battleground for Edwards. State Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, agrees. Davnie, who's been an Edwards backer since 2004, said success in Iowa will ultimately help Edwards in Minnesota.
“In presidential politics, Iowa is first, and so the focus is there.”Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis
"It's very much a first things first," he said. "And in presidential politics, Iowa is first, and so the focus is there. But engaging people to come down to Iowa is a way of building strength in the Edwards campaign here in Minnesota as well. Making sure that people are hearing him, talking about him is all part of building the excitement and the energy here in Minnesota."
But Minnesota might not generate the excitement some political activists were hoping for when they moved up the precinct caucuses. Dan Hofrenning, a political science professor at St. Olaf College, said Minnesota won't be seeing many presidential candidates.
"The problem is that about 20 other states made the same move," he said. "And I think the end result is that with 22 states all happening on Feb. 5, Minnesota won't receive that much extra attention. Perhaps a little more, but 22 states is a lot of ground for those candidates to cover."
But Hofrenning said the major party nominations should still be up for grabs by Feb 5. He said that should generate more interest in the candidates and greater participation in the precinct caucuses.
Republicans in Minnesota's 6th Congressional District were talking presidential politics at a meeting last month in Becker. State Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, showed up to make a pitch for his favorite GOP candidate, Mitt Romney. Dean said Romney is a proven fiscal conservative who can help other Republicans win in 2008.
"It's very important for us to have the most organized campaign," he said. "And clearly, Mitt Romney's campaign has been the most organized from one coast to the other. From North to South. He's got people everywhere."
Dean faced a room of Republicans who have not yet reached a consensus on whom to support for president. Candidates like Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Fred Thompson are getting plenty of consideration.
But Rudy Takala of Pine County said Ron Paul is the only GOP candidate he can believe. "Some of his positions might not line up with exactly what I think; but right now I think we're lacking sincerity in politics, and I think we're lacking principled candidates," he said. "And I think he brings that to the table. "
Other Republicans insist there's still plenty of time to decide. Lee Burud of Big Lake said he's leaning toward Fred Thompson. But Burud said it still feels too early to be picking a presidential candidate.
"Historically, we've seen most of the candidates drop out towards the end," he said. "So, I think most of the discussion now is irrelevant. It's a little fun to talk about it, but I don't think it has much meaning."
Even if some candidates drop out after Iowa and New Hampshire, Burud and other Minnesota caucus-goers should have multiple presidential hopefuls to choose from. But many analysts say after Feb. 5 both major parties may have settled on nominees.