Until this week, the campaigns of President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney had treated Minnesota as if Obama would win the state.
But that may be changing. Former president Bill Clinton will campaign in Minnesota for the president on Tuesday and Republicans say Romney or vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan may also be considering a campaign visit.
The increased attention to the state by the two campaigns comes after a Star Tribune poll published Sunday showed that Romney trailed the president by just 3 percentage points. As a result, with just over a week to go until Election Day, political assumptions about the state have been turned on their heads.
On the national level, politicians and pundits perceive Minnesota to be an easy win for Democrats. That would seem to make sense, given that the state has routinely picked Democratic candidates for president for 40 years.
But those who watch Minnesota politics closely know it's not that simple. There were two statewide recounts in the past two election cycles and two of the last three presidential contests were decided by less than 5 percentage points.
Despite that volatility, the Obama and Romney campaigns have largely sidestepped Minnesota and spent most of their time and money in other states thought to be up for grabs.
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Even after the Star Tribune poll and the announcement that Clinton will campaign in Minneapolis and Duluth, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina downplayed any worry that the president would lose Minnesota.
"The Romney campaign wants you to believe that it's expanding the map but it's not," Messina said today in a conference call with reporters.
Messina said Romney is trying to convince the media his campaign is winning by dropping hints that he would spend money on television ads in Minnesota and Pennsylvania. Messina said the Romney campaign is making the move because polls show it's down in other key battleground states where he needs to win.
"Now Romney's pretending he's got a shot in Pennsylvania and Minnesota," Messina said. "We expect Romney or Ryan to visit an out-of-play state to pretend that they have some momentum there."
The Obama campaign did not take any questions about Clinton's stop in Minnesota.
Minnesota Republican Party officials say they're seriously discussing a Minnesota campaign stop by Romney, Ryan or both candidates before Election Day.
That would be a dramatic departure from the Romney campaign's strategy as the campaign has no staff in Minnesota. Romney and Ryan both attended fundraisers in Minnesota over the past three months but didn't hold any public campaign events. Despite that, Republicans are hoping Romney will carry the state.
"I think Minnesota is long overdue to go back in the Republican column come Nov. 6th," Minnesota Republican Party Chairman Pat Shortridge said.
Shortridge, who believes Romney is picking up momentum in Minnesota, does not buy the Obama campaign's rhetoric that Minnesota is in the bag for Democrats.
"If it's not a competitive race then I would simply ask then, 'why are they sending President Clinton, their most popular politician to Minnesota on Tuesday? ' " Shortridge said. "Clearly they have any number of places that they can be sending him yet they choose to send him to Minnesota."
Both campaigns are also spending money on TV ads in Minnesota. Romney's campaign purchased $30,000 worth of ads in the Twin Cities television market for the final week in the campaign. The ads are the first by Romney in Minnesota, who has benefitted from millions of advertising spending by independent expenditures by groups supporting Romney.
The Obama campaign is countering that ad buy with $360,000 in ad spending in the Twin Cities market through Election Day.
Those ads and Clinton's visit may be designed to go beyond Minnesota's borders. The Twin Cities and Duluth TV markets also cover western Wisconsin — and both campaigns agree the Badger State is a critical battleground this year.
That may help explain the new interest in Minnesota, Washington University political science professor Steven Smith said.
"The primary focus is on Wisconsin, so to be in the Twin Cities and Duluth media markets plays heavily in Wisconsin," Smith said. "But the fact that polls have tightened up, maybe surprisingly so in Minnesota, makes it maybe worth spending a little more time focusing on western Wisconsin, getting the Minnesota benefit then over in Milwaukee."
Other polls have shown Obama with a bigger lead in Minnesota. A St. Cloud State University poll released Saturday showed the president leading Romney by 8 points, and a Survey USA poll released Oct. 12 showed Obama with a 10-point lead.
No poll released this election season has shown Romney with a lead in the state.
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