When GOP officials announced in September 2006 that Minneapolis and St. Paul would host their 2008 national convention, the RNC chairman at the time, Ken Mehlman, invoked Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman and the Xcel Energy Center as he predicted a big political payoff for his party more than two years down the road.
"The bottom line is that the house that Norm built is likely to be where the next president of the United States is going to be introduced to the American people," Mehlman said at the time.
Minnesota hasn't voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1972. But the recent narrow margins in 2000 and 2004 have convinced some political observers that Minnesota is now a swing state.
"Minnesota is in the most competitive electoral arena in the country," said Larry Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute.
Jacobs says Republicans have their sights set on Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin, which were all tight contests in 2004.
Jacobs says an Upper Midwest stage for the national convention should benefit Republicans and their presidential candidate, John McCain.
"Republicans see this as prime pickup territory," said McCain. "Holding the convention here allows them to, in a sense, re-brand the Republican Party, to push out the old product, which was George Bush, and introduce a new product called John McCain, and to really seize hold of the imagination of voters in the Upper Midwest and in Minnesota."
Republicans say their prospects for success in Minnesota this fall improved significantly when the state became host of the national convention.
State GOP Chairman Ron Carey says the convention will generate an unprecedented level of local news coverage, which he says will expose more Minnesota voters to the Republican message.
"Let's be frank. If the convention were held in the first week of September in Tampa, which was one of the chief competitors to the Twin Cities, how many Minnesotans -- as the kids were going back to school, and people were thinking about how to get the lake cabin shut down -- how much attention would they pay to the Republican convention in Tampa?" said Carey.
Carey says he's confident about McCain's chances in Minnesota. But a recent Minnesota Public Radio News/University of Minnesota Humphrey Institute poll doesn't provide much comfort.
It shows Democratic candidate Barack Obama with a 10-point lead in the state, with a 3.6 percentage point margin of sampling error.
Still, even losing at the state level can help produce a national victory. Carey remembers fondly that Democrat John Kerry had to make a last-minute trip to Minnesota in 2004 to solidify his support in a close contest.
Carey says he'd be satisfied with a similar outcome this year.
"Putting up a good concentrated effort here in Minnesota, even if we fall slightly short -- if we're forcing the Democrats to fight real hard and expend resources to keep this state in their column, that in itself is a victory for Republicans and the broader Republican cause," said Carey.
Democrats had their turn in the spotlight last week in Denver, when they nominated Barack Obama for president. Nick Kimball, a spokesman for the Obama campaign in Minnesota, says no matter how big of a show Republicans put on in St. Paul this week, he's confident Obama can win the state.
"There's a lot of work ahead of us between now and November 4. But at the end of the day, when people see Senator Obama's ideas to strengthen the economy, they're going to know that he's the person to move us forward, and I think that will help us be successful here in Minnesota," he said.
Kimball says the Obama campaign won't surrender Minnesota to Republicans this week, and will have a visible presence in the Twin Cities throughout the convention.