Minnesota voters show support for Obama and Romney

ST. PAUL -- Barack Obama and Mitt Romney rode a desire for change in Washington as Minnesotans packed Tuesday precinct caucuses. Obama, a U.S. senator from Illinois, maintained a nearly 2-to-11 margin over Sen. Hillary Cl-inton, D-N.Y., for most ...

ST. PAUL -- Barack Obama and Mitt Romney rode a desire for change in Washington as Minnesotans packed Tuesday precinct caucuses.

Obama, a U.S. senator from Illinois, maintained a nearly 2-to-11 margin over Sen. Hillary Cl-inton, D-N.Y., for most of the night.

The two will now split the states votes at the Democratic National Convention late this summer.

Obama led Clinton 67 percent to 32 percent with 58 percent of the precincts reporting.

Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, won a closer Republican contest. But it was little more than a beauty contest because Tuesday's votes do not directly affect how delegates will vote at the Republican National Convention in the Twin Cities.


Romney had 41 percent of the vote in the straw poll with 43 percent of the state's 4,122 precincts reporting.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., were nearly tied with about 21 percent each, while Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, gathered 16 percent.

Enthusiasm abounded at Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party caucus-night headquarters, a St. Paul union hall, where Democratic candidates and activists gathered to watch caucus results.

Democratic U.S. Senate candidates Mike Ciresi, Al Franken and Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer addressed a crowd of a few hundred, as did Obama and Clinton supporters.

Franken said that Democrats he has talked with like both Clinton and Obama.

"People want a change and he represents change more than she does," Franken said of Obama.

State Auditor Rebecca Otto, a Democrat, said she suspected the unusually high turnout at her caucus in a Republican-leaning area northeast of St. Paul was the result of Obama's candidacy. There were young people and new caucus-goers, she said.

"It means that people are totally energized by Barack Obama," Otto said.


Obama's campaign bought a barrage of television commercials in recent days. And he drew 20,000 supporters to a Target Center rally in Minneapolis Saturday.

The Illinois senator's Minnesota campaign began in October.

Clinton, meanwhile, compiled a who's who of Minnesota DFL leaders as supporters, ranging from former Vice President Walter Mondale to House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher. The New York senator spoke to 4,000 backers Sunday afternoon in a Twin Cities appearance.

Minnesota's only recent poll showed Clinton received support of 40 percent of Democrats, compared to Obama's 33 percent. However, the Minnesota Public Radio-Humphrey Institute poll released last week did not try to measure support among expected caucus goers.

The story of the day may have been more about turnout than who won. Caucus rooms were reported full in many locations, and traffic jams occurred near caucuses in both Twin Cities and rural areas.

The number Minnesotans attending caucuses was not known Tuesday night.

Turnout at Democratic caucuses across Minnesota was "unprecedented," DFL Party Chairman Brian Melendez said.

"It means that people are very eager to have their voices heard," Melendez said.


Minnesota Republican Party spokesman Mark Drake said GOP caucus sites were busy around the state, even in DFL strongholds such as St. Paul.

Increased participation likely is the result of Minnesota's decision to bump up caucuses to Super Tuesday, a month earlier than usual.

"There's never been this much attention devoted to it," Drake said

Democrats credited complaints about President Bush for the large turnout.

"People are really starting to feel the policies of this administration in their pocketbooks," U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar said, citing health care costs, the price of gasoline and rising college tuition.

A recent poll showed the economy is by far the most important issue on Minnesotans' minds.

The economic downturn in Minnesota and across the country is one of the factors that contributed to high turnout at the caucuses, Melendez said. The Iraqi war also continues to be a top issue for Democratic caucus goers, he said.

"People are feeling it in the pocketbook this year in a way that they didn't two years ago," Melendez said.


Democratic caucus-goers decided how the state will vote for a presidential candidate at their national convention.

Democratic presidential votes are required to be followed when Minnesota's delegates cast ballots next August at the national convention in Denver.

The MPR-Humphrey poll showed that McCain leads among Minnesotan Republicans in general, with 41 percent. Huckabee followed with 22 percent, and Romney held third with 17 percent.

During the caucuses, Democratic U.S. Senate candidates expected to find out how much support they have, especially leaders Franken and Ciresi. The two, as well as Nelson-Pallmeyer and Dick Franson, need delegates who were elected at caucuses to win the party's endorsement during its early-June state convention.

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