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McCain Fighting Uphill Battle In Minnesota

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McCain Fighting Uphill Battle In Minnesota

Election 2008: On the Campaign Trail

McCain Fighting Uphill Battle In Minnesota

McCain Fighting Uphill Battle In Minnesota

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Polls show Barack Obama ahead of John McCain in Minnesota by close to nine points. The state hasn't backed a GOP presidential nominee since 1972, yet McCain's campaign continues to pour time and money into the state.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Now to Minnesota and the fight for its 10 electoral votes. Most recent polls there show Barack Obama ahead of John McCain, beyond the margin of error. But the McCain campaign insists Minnesota is still up for grabs. It's been spending a lot of money in a state that has not gone for a Republican presidential contender since 1972. NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA: Turn on your TV in Minnesota and before long, you'll likely be hearing this.

(Soundbite of TV ad)

Unidentified Woman: Obama rewards his friends with your tax dollars. Tony Rezko, 14 million. Allison Davis, 20 million.

WELNA: The constantly aired ad attacks Obama and what it calls congressional liberals for sponsoring earmarks, and it's paid for by both the McCain campaign and the Republican National Committee as a part of a week's-long McCain offensive in Minnesota using TV, radio and hundreds of thousands of calls to voters' homes to vilify Obama. Just last week, the McCain campaign and the RNC spent nearly half a million dollars on TV ads in Minnesota - three times what the Obama campaign spent.

Mr. BEN GOLNICK (McCain Campaign Minnesota Director): I think McCain's got a great chance of winning in Minnesota.

WELNA: Ben Golnick is the McCain campaign's Minnesota director. He insists this is a tight race that his man can still win.

Mr. GOLNICK: The resources wouldn't be being invested here if this state were not in play, and I think, you know, polling has shown the race to be tightening. And we feel like we're in a good position, if things continue to improve and Senator McCain gets his message out, that we're going to prevail here on Election Day.

WELNA: Golnick's optimism stands in sharp contrast to the funk that GOP political analyst Sarah Janacek says many Minnesota Republicans are in.

Ms. SARAH JANACEK (Republican Political Analyst): 2006 was a terrible year for Republicans in Minnesota. So this beats all conventional wisdom that McCain is doubling down in Minnesota.

WELNA: Both John McCain and Sarah Palin have recently campaigned in suburban Minneapolis in St. Paul. But Janacek says the campaign shifted its focus to the traditional blue-collar Democratic stronghold of Northern Minnesota.

Ms. JANACEK: The McCain people are spending a lot of time on the inner range, and the issue that's working for them off the charts is Second Amendment - gun issues.

(Soundbite of crowd applauding at a campaign rally)

WELNA: Last week at a McCain rally near Duluth, Sarah Palin's husband, Todd, was the featured speaker.

Mr. TODD PALIN (Sarah Palin's Husband): Minnesota and Alaska share a lot of the same qualities - the hunting and fishing and of course, the Second Amendment rights and snow machining, and a lot of my best buds are from Minnesota and so ...

WELNA: Last night, Hillary Clinton was on Minnesota's Iron Range campaigning for Barack Obama. Jeff Blodgett, who's Obama's Minnesota campaign director, admits McCain's 11th-hour push has forced him to play defense.

Mr. JEFF BLODGETT (Obama Campaign Minnesota State Director): I don't pretend to have any idea what the McCain campaign's doing. All I know is the Obama campaign looks at Minnesota and says, yeah. That is a must-win state. That's part of our equation to get to the White House. So we're simply going to do everything we can to win the state.

WELNA: Hamline University political scientist Joe Peschek admits being puzzled why McCain would devote precious resources to Minnesota.

Mr. JOE PESCHEK (Hamline University Political Scientist): All the recent evidence shows that Minnesota is going Obama's way, and there are some Republican strategists who are asking whether this is the wisest use of resources for McCain, McCain-Palin to be visiting, spending so much money, when they really need to focus on other states.

WELNA: But Carlton College's Stephen Shear thinks McCain's placed his bets on Minnesota's unpredictability.

Mr. STEPHEN SHEAR (Carlton College Professor): We won't know if the money is down the toilet because the Minnesota electorate is volatile. These - late movements are quite possible in the Minnesota electorate, and I think that's what the McCain campaign is hoping for.

WELNA: David Welna, NPR News.

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