John McCain's appearance at his St. Paul headquarters was a bit of a pep rally for the 100 or so volunteers there. Many arrived three hours before the event to make phone calls on McCain's behalf.
McCain told them their efforts are vital to his campaign, and he urged them to continue to make phone calls, knock on doors and register Republican voters.
"Minnesota will be a battleground state. Minnesota may determine who the next president of the United States is," said McCain. "We're going to win this state because of your efforts, and we can lose because of your lack of effort."
In an interview with Minnesota Public Radio News, McCain characterized himself as an underdog against Democrat Barack Obama, and acknowledged that he's polling behind Obama in both Minnesota and Wisconsin.
“Our soybean growers and corn growers in Minnesota who are in the rural areas are going to have a bone to pick with John McCain.”U of M political scientist Larry Jacobs
McCain said those two states -- along with Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio -- are critical to his path to the White House. McCain will finish the week having campaigned in all but one of those states.
"This is a very important region for John McCain, and it's being reflected in the most precious commodity that he's got -- which is his time," said Larry Jacobs, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota.
Jacobs said McCain and the Republican Party are placing a higher importance on the Upper Midwest and Rust Belt states because some of the more traditional Republican states are leaning towards Obama.
Jacobs said Virginia, North Carolina and Indiana are just a few states that could go Democratic this election cycle.
But a path to victory in Minnesota for McCain almost certainly runs through the West and South -- rural regions that have a heavy interest in federal agriculture policy.
U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, a conservative Democrat who chairs the House Agriculture Committee, said last week that McCain has never met an ag bill that he could support.
McCain said he would work to open up more foreign markets to help farmers sell their goods and services, but said the recently passed fram bill is too bloated with pork barrel projects.
"I think the farm bill was a bad bill," said McCain. "I don't think we should give $93 million worth of tax breaks to thoroughbred racehorse owners. I don't think asparagus growers need $15 million of our subsidies. I certainly don't think that ethanol subsidies are necessary."
Jacobs said McCain's stance could upset what otherwise would be a core Republican constituency in this state.
"Our soybean growers and corn growers in Minnesota who are in the rural areas are going to have a bone to pick with John McCain," Jacobs said. "Usually the Republican Party in this state, and Democrats, are leery of offending that very important block of voters."
On another issue of interest to Minnesotans, McCain said the campaign is working towards choosing his vice presidential running mate, but he would not comment on who he's considering or whether Gov. Tim Pawlenty is on his list.
McCain said he'll consider a candidate who shares his principles, values and priorities, but added that balancing a ticket with a candidate from a different region is not as important as it was years ago.
Pawlenty told reporters on Thursday that he is not being vetted by McCain's campaign, and is not aware of being under consideration for the slot.