Obama and Romney win Minnesota

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Obama supper
St. Catherine's student Sirri Ngwa, a recently naturalized American citizen, will be voting in her first election. She made her choice obvious at the caucuses at Ramsey Junior High in St. Paul.
MPR Photos/Bill Alkofer

Minnesota DFL Party leaders weren't sure how many delegates Obama would pick up with his victory. They say it will take time to figure out the delegate counts.

Party leaders say Obama will win at least 16 or 17 delegates for winning the state. He'll win more once votes are tallied in each of Minnesota's eight congressional districts. But Hillary Clinton will win some too.

It was clear that voters were energized to vote for the presidential candidates. There were record turnouts for both the Republican and DFL caucuses.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty
Gov. Tim Pawlenty caucused at Burnsville High School in Burnsville, Minn.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

The energy was evident at the University of Minnesota, where hundreds of students were in line at Coffman Union before the polls were opened.

Sophomore Katie Lindberg was the first student in line to take a ballot. She got there at 5 p.m., a full hour and a half before the caucus began. Lindberg voted for Obama, as did many of the students lined up behind her.

"I just like that he hasn't been in Washington that long, and I like the things he talks about," she said.

Many of the hundreds of students in line were wearing Obama stickers and Obama shirts. The Obama campaign worked hard to convince the students at the U of M to vote for him. They held caucus training. They ran ads in the student newspaper, and they held rallies on the eve of the caucuses.

Mitt Romney greets supporters
Mitt Romney greets a group of supporters gathered in Edina, Minn. at a campaign event Saturday.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

Some of the students said they were impressed with Obama's plan to make college tuition more affordable. Others said they liked that he opposes the war in Iraq. But a majority shared the sentiment of freshman Loree Patel.

"Students love change, and kids can change a lot more than adults can," she said.

Many older Minnesotans may not have shared Patel's sentiments because it appears that they also turned out in large numbers to back Obama.

Precinct chairs at many of the caucus sites were forced to scramble for extra ballots, even though they were already expecting a high turnout. At Highland Park Middle School, many voters waited patiently in line.

Candidate signs
Candidate signs adorn the doors of the Rondo Educational Center in St. Paul, Minn.
MPR Photo/Tom Crann

One household split its support -- Dixie Olmstead voted for Obama. Her husband, Jim, voted for Clinton.

"I like that he didn't vote for the war. I like that he just seems to be inspiring this tremendous enthusiasm across the country and I think that's what the country needs right now," said Dixie Olmstead.

"I think I know what I'm going to get from her," said Jim Olmstead, referring to Hillary Clinton. "She's kind of middle of the road, the Clinton triangulating, progressive liberal. But I do feel like I know what's going to happen. I'm not inspired by any of the Barack Obama speeches."

On the Republican side, the stakes weren't as high. That's because the GOP straw poll was nonbinding, meaning delegates won't be awarded based on the results.

Nevertheless, supporters of Republican Mitt Romney are pleased with his showing in Minnesota. Brian Sullivan is the co-chair of Minnesotans for Romney. He said many Minnesota Republicans chose Romney because he is the most conservative candidate in the race.

Sullivan also said GOP front runner John McCain has angered many conservatives over the years.

"He has, in my opinion, gone out of his way to poke a stick in the eye of Republicans with his stance on a number of issues. One of the challenges when you ask for their support is that you may not get it," Sullivan said.

Gov Tim Pawlenty told reporters several hours before the caucuses that he expected Romney to win Minnesota. Pawlenty, who co-chairs McCain's presidential committee, said because Minnesota's GOP straw poll is non-binding the McCain campaign decided to spend a lot more time and money in other states.

He said McCain's Republican support is widespread, and he didn't think the caucus outcome would have an impact on the larger campaign.

"I lost the caucuses in 2002," Pawlenty said. "If I can't win them for myself, how can I win them for someone else? You'll remember that Brian Sullivan thumped me pretty good in the caucuses. So they're really one step in the process, but they really aren't good predictors of what the outcome will be."

The DFL and Republican Party chairs say they expect the high voter enthusiasm to spill over into the general election.

Because Minnesota is considered a swing state by both parties, it's likely that Minnesota voters will be seeing the party nominess -- whoever they are -- in person between now and election day.

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