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Minnesota's swing voters draw national pols

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Gov. Pawlenty and other political strategists encouraged GOP leaders gathered in Bloomington to focus on the Republican Party's strengths.
MPR file photo

Leaders of the two parties offered assessments of the past five years that couldn't be any more different.  

Democrats continue to say that President Bush and the Republican controlled Congress have sent the nation down the wrong track.  

Republicans are quick to say the nation has seen many accomplishments over that time.  The GOP meeting in Bloomington didn't offer a look at the playbook for winning the upcoming midterm elections.  

Instead, it served as a pep talk about what the party has done right over the past several years.  One of the featured speakers was Governor Pawlenty, who took the stage and made an indirect pitch to GOP activists to return soon to the Twin Cities.

"Thanks a lot and welcome to the home of the 2008 Republican National Convention," Pawlenty said.

The Twin Cities are in the running to host both the Republican and the Democratic National Conventions in 2008.  

Jokes aside, Pawlenty and other political strategists encouraged the gathered GOP leaders to focus on the Republican Party's strengths.  

Pawlenty said his party does best when it focuses on lower taxes, job creation and better schools.  He urged the audience to focus on the concerns of Middle American voters, who may be nervous about the economy.  

He said the Republican Party should tell voters that they are the party that will keep the nation safe, will limit the size of government, and will develop a highly trained, more productive workforce.  

"Our proposition as Republicans can't be [that] we're on the defensive--we say no to everything and we're out of ideas," said the governor.  "We've got to be leading the charge.  We need to have energy.  We need to have passion.  We need to be positive and it needs to be in the context of the concerns of the everyday folks that we're out there representing."

While Pawlenty talked about what he thinks party activists should focus on in the upcoming election, White House Political Director Sara Taylor outlined the Republican record over the past five years. 

Under President Bush, Taylor said there's a greater percentage of home ownership, tax cuts have invigorated the economy, and the nation hasn't seen a terrorist attack since September eleventh, 2001.  

Much of Taylor's speech focused on national security.  She said President Bush has spent a large part of his presidency on keeping the country safe.  She also added that the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan are spreading democracy.  

"And while there are no doubt tough days ahead in Iraq and around the globe.  Under this president, America has made very clear it will never back down, we will never stop fighting terrorism, we will never turn our back on an ally and American will succeed against our greatest threat to our freedom since the Cold War," Taylor said.

While the audience approved of Taylor's comments, recent polling suggests that a majority of Americans don't approve of President Bush's policies and thinks the nation is on the wrong track.  

Democrats, like Congressman Martin Sabo, are focusing on those concerns.  Sabo told an audience of Democrats at the University of Minnesota that President Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress have mismanaged the federal government.  

"Wherever you turn, things have gone wrong, and the Congress, controlled by Republicans who have the power of subpoena, is docile," said Sabo.  "That is an opportunity for our leaders and Democrats this year."

Sabo, who is retiring this year, sponsored a forum at the U of M to discuss the Democrat's agenda for the upcoming election.  At his side was House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.  She said democrats are focusing this election on raising the minimum wage, making college tuition tax deductible and investing in energy independence by eliminating tax breaks for the nation's oil companies.  

"All of these issues are the kitchen table issues," said Pelosi.  "Hubert Humphrey talked about them. Democrats have talked about them for a long time, and we talk about them here.  They're what people are concerned about.  They're relevant to the lives of the American people and these are deliverables that we can guarantee within the first few days of a new Congress."

Democrats need a net gain of 15 seats to take control of the U.S. House.  In addition to making speeches, Pelosi is raising money for DFL candidates.  She held a private fundraiser for DFLer Patty Wetterling.  Wetterling is running for the open seat in Minnesota's Sixth Congressional District against Republican Michele Bachmann.