President Barack Obama will be Minnesota Friday to speak at Honeywell and to raise money for his campaign.
Unlike four years ago when Obama and his Republican opponent John McCain visited Minnesota frequently, it looks like the state may not draw as much attention from the presidential candidates — in part because Republican Mitt Romney has not started an active campaign here.
Obama's re-election campaign has been active in Minnesota for nearly a year. There are more than 30 staffers working at five offices across the state. The statewide headquarters opened last month and volunteers are already contacting voters.
At a phone bank on the University of Minnesota campus this week, about 20 people were calling on Obama's behalf. The effort seems early for a state that doesn't typically get engaged in politics until after the State Fair.
But Minnesota campaign manager Jeff Blodgett said the Obama campaign is working to win here because the state is key to getting Obama re-elected.
"A presidential race is all about getting to 270 electoral votes and there's always many scenarios for getting there," Blodgett said. "In all of the scenarios, Minnesota is in the win column. It's a must-win state and that's the way we're operating."
Minnesota hasn't voted for a Republican for president since 1972 — the longest streak in the nation. And while the Obama campaign is actively organizing in the state, Romney's campaign is barely visible.
Take for example, the Republican Party state convention in May. There were Romney signs taped to the convention center walls, but no one spoke publicly on his behalf. One of the only mentions of Romney's name came during a 43-second video presentation featuring Romney's wife, Ann.
And even though Romney is the presumptive nominee, delegates at the state party convention overwhelmingly elected delegates that will cast votes for Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul at the Republican National Convention.
Romney's campaign also has no full-time staff in Minnesota — a dramatic departure from four years ago. In June of 2008, McCain's office had a statewide director, a Minnesota office, and ran $150,000 in TV ads in June. Jack Meeks, chair of Romney's 2012 steering committee in Minnesota, said he believes Romney can win Minnesota. But he said there's no commitment now to spend money in the state.
"This is a very volatile year and Minnesota has shown in the recent past that it can be very volatile," he said. "It has the potential of being a very close race here in Minnesota. If that happens, if it closes up, I think you'll see the Romney people put the effort into Minnesota to win it."
Meeks said he expects Romney to make a campaign stop in Minnesota in the next few months but didn't have any specifics.
If Romney decides not to invest in targeting voters and running ads in Minnesota, it could have an impact on other races. State and local candidates could lose if there's no national money coming in to identify potential Republican supporters and motivate them to actually vote.
Still, Republican Party Chair Pat Shortridge contends Republicans will do fine if Romney doesn't spend money in Minnesota.
"That's the cherry on the top of the sundae," Shortridge said. "You have to build the foundation and get your own work done before you can expect anybody else here to help. If we do, that would be great. If not, we have to be prepared to do without it."
DFL Party Chair Ken Martin said he expects the Obama campaign and Sen. Amy Klobuchar's campaign to spend millions in Minnesota. He said that will help keep Democrats motivated.
"We're seeing that all over the place whether it's young voters or older voters," Martin said. "People who were really enthused with President Obama in 2008 are out there organizing right now not only for President Obama but for candidates up and down the ballot."
But Martin has to be careful what he wishes for. Several Republicans say they like their chances if Obama is spending heavily to win Minnesota. They say that will be a sign the president is struggling in what should be friendly territory, and a sign Romney has a strong shot at winning battleground states and the White House.
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