Is Minnesota Really a Battleground State?

Battleground states in presidential elections have all the fun. Candidates flatter them with attention. Media hordes breathlessly monitor their every electoral whim. Expensive TV ads flood the airwaves.

Minnesota is widely considered to be a battleground state, based on the last two presidential contests here, when Democrats Al Gore and John Kerry squeaked out razor-thin victories over George Bush by 2 and 3 points, respectively.

But is this really a national battleground?

The latest Rasmussen poll released last Friday shows Sen. Barack Obama with a hefty 13-point lead over Sen. John McCain for the third month in a row. A recent Star Tribune poll shows Obama with the same margin.

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By comparison, many other supposed battleground states are close contests already, according to Rasmussen: McCain by a point in Ohio, Obama by 2 points in Pennsylvannia, 2 points in Wisconsin, a point in Missouri.

True, the Republican National Convention in St. Paul will bring Minnesotans all the media attention we can stand, but when the conventions are over, are we destined to be standing on the outside of election relevance, looking in?

Don't count on it, says the state Republican Party. "Polls are a snapshot in time, and things will change a lot between now and election day," says GOP Communications Director Gina Countryman. "Minnesotans have a long record of supporting candidates with an independent, maverick streak," she says, and McCain's record should be attractive to them. McCain's early TV commercials here, and his visit yesterday for a fundraiser and town hall meeting, show that his campaign believes Minnesota is in play.

Interestingly enough, the DFL state party's executive director agrees. "It's absolutely a battleground state," says Andrew O'Leary. " I think it's too early for us or anybody to be taking states off the map. Yeah, there's a 13-point spread between Obama and McCain now, but we don't know where that's going to be in November."

O'Leary points to at least two factors that could have a serious impact in narrowing the gap here: the Republican convention in September and McCain's potential choice of Gov. Pawlenty as his running mate.

But presidential polls are only one part of the equation. A high-stakes Senate race and four contested congressional races should ensure that both parties will be pouring resources into the state, O'Leary says. "There are going to be no decisions made about taking Minnesota off the map until there are empirical [data] about the effect of the Republican convention here. There are just too many moving parts in Minnesota to take us off the list."

Maybe. But if Minnesotans really want to be a player in this year's presidential race, they might want to start waffling.


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