As Election Day comes down to the wire, Minnesota is getting some last-minute attention from both the Obama and Romney campaigns. Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan and former President Bill Clinton were both here on Sunday.
Polls continue to show President Barack Obama with a lead in the state over Republican rival Mitt Romney, and Minnesota hasn't been considered a swing state this election year, and hasn't been fought over in the same way states such as Ohio and Florida. So the high-profile campaign stops are more of an effort to motivate people to vote on Tuesday -- not just for the top of ticket, but for candidates all the way down the ballot, too.
Hours before Ryan's plane taxied up to the hanger at the Minneapolis St. Paul Airport, dozens of volunteers were packed into a room right off the hangar floor making phone calls to prospective voters. Rep. Michele Bachmann told them it was crucial for Republicans to get out their voters in the next few days.
"Whatever your plans were tonight, cancel them, change them," Bachmann said. "Get out to the phone bank. Knock on doors. Drop lit. There are phone banks set up literally all across this state."
Waiting for Ryan, Tom Arnold, of Blaine, said he hadn't received any contact from either the Romney camp or the state Republican Party until 10 days ago. But he said that changed almost overnight.
"It's incredible how the Romney campaign literally turned the machine on and has been making contacts like you wouldn't believe," he said.
When Ryan's plane arrived, decked out with the campaign's logo, the crowd went wild. And they went even wilder after he said this:
"I got a question: Minnesota, are you going to help us win this election?"
Ryan, a Wisconsin congressman, tried hard to present himself as a near-native Minnesota son. He mentioned ice fishing, family members who live in Minnesota and shared values between the states.
"In DC, people say, 'Oh yeah, Ryan. You're that budget guy from Minnesota, right?' 'No, I'm from Wisconsin, close. We're the Catholic deer hunters, they're the Lutheran deer hunters.' "
Someone who could benefit from the enthusiasm of Ryan's visit is U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack. The first-term Republican, from Minnesota's 8th District, is locked in one of the tightest and most expensive races in the country against Democrat Rick Nolan.
Cravaack introduced Ryan as his exercise buddy.
"The last two years, I've had the privilege to watch this guy work out at 6:30 every morning in Congress," Cravaack said.
Ryan's visit could provide a last-minute surge to Cravaack's campaign, said Minnesota Republican Party Chairman Pat Shortridge.
"Obviously a big part of Chip's district is in the Twin Cities media market. And I'm sure Duluth stations will be covering a vice presidential nominee's visit," said Shortridge.
Sixty miles away and a few hours later, a similar scene was playing out for Democrats in St. Cloud, where former President Bill Clinton spoke.
"We're coming down to the end of this campaign, but there's still votes to be gotten, people to be persuaded,'' Clinton told the crowd. ``We need your help. The president needs your help."
Clinton has been on the stump for Obama for weeks and his voice showed the strain of nonstop campaigning. Before his speech inside the hall at St. Cloud State University, Clinton spoke to the overflow crowd of several thousand people outside.
The head of President Obama's Minnesota campaign, Jeff Blodgett, said the campaign was using the event to organize its final push to the polls.
"One of the things we're doing tonight is signing up people to be part of our volunteer shifts, tomorrow and on Tuesday, Election Day," said Blodgett.
Jim Graves, the Democrat challenging Bachmann, was one of the warm-up speakers and was onstage through Clinton's speech.
Although Bachmann has a lead in the heavily Republican 6th District, Graves said he hoped Clinton's visit would make a difference.
"I don't know if it's going to change voters' minds, but it's definitely going to help get the voters out," Graves said.
"I'm here for President Obama, but I'm also here for what I hope will be Congressman Graves," Clinton said.
And like his Republican opponents, Clinton said aside from voting, the next most valuable thing voters could do was volunteer their time to help ensure Democrats win in Tuesday's election.
Wilson reported from St. Cloud.
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