MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Now to the Minnesota Democrats, or more precisely the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, or DFL. That's the unique Minnesota brand. Brian Melendez is the chair of the party. He joins us now from Minneapolis. Welcome to the program.
Mr. BRIAN MELENDEZ (Chairman, Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, Minnesota): Hello, Michele, how are you?
NORRIS: I'm very well. Now, Mr. Melendez, we just heard from your counterpart in the state Republican Party that the race is tightening in Minnesota, not just in the rural areas, but in and around the Twin Cities metropolitan area, and that's very curious because that's usually a Democratic stronghold. What's going on?
Mr. MELENDEZ: Well, the urban core really is a Democratic stronghold, and what you see are the polls tightening. Now, we always expected this to be a tight race, so the tightening's not very surprising, especially as we get toward the convention. But I think there is something interesting that the polls are missing, which is that the Obama supporters don't tend to be the traditional folks that pollsters reach.
A lot of the Democratic voters are younger. They're more mobile, and they don't have land lines. They have cell phones. They communicate by e-mail and by text messaging, and I think the polls are missing a lot of those folks. And if you look at the results of the Minnesota precinct caucuses, where we had just a tsunami of folks come out to vote for Barack Obama, that's the demographic that the pollsters are missing.
NORRIS: You've got a very tight Senate race in Minnesota right now between the incumbent Norm Colman and challenger Al Franken. How does that factor into the presidential race? Is Franken a drag on the Obama ticket?
Mr. MELENDEZ: Not at all. In fact, I think that Al Franken and Senator Obama are going to reinforce each other's campaigns and help each other. There are a lot of new voters who are going to come out voting for Senator Obama, and Senator Obama's coattails are likely to help Al Franken.
On the other hand, Al Franken is right here in Minnesota, carrying a very positive, very populist message to the voters, and I think there are a number of people who can get comfortable with Al Franken who may be less comfortable with Barack Obama who are going to hear Al Franken talk and realize that Barack Obama is their candidate as well.
NORRIS: Now, there's going to be quite a bit of enthusiasm surrounding the Republican Party in just a few weeks with the Republican National Convention there in the Twin Cities. Are you at all worried or concerned about a possible bump for the John McCain ticket if the Minnesota governor, Tim Pawlenty, actually becomes his running mate?
Mr. MELENDEZ: No. Actually, I am somewhat hopeful that Governor Pawlenty will be Senator McCain's running mate. Tim Pawlenty has never carried Minnesota with a majority of the votes. He's been elected with a mere plurality each time.
During the time that he's been governor, the Republican Party has lost roughly a third of the seats that they held in the legislature. And Pawlenty has been neglecting Minnesota in order to campaign for Senator Obama. And I think if Tim Pawlenty gets on the ticket, McCain does not carry Minnesota. He'd be a great candidate from my point of view.
NORRIS: John Kerry ultimately carried Minnesota, but he did it by basically spending a lot of time there and making an 11th-hour visit to the state right before the presidential election. What will Barack Obama have to do to make sure that Minnesota is in the Democrat's category?
Mr. MELENDEZ: Well, right now I think that Senator Obama has a pretty comfortable lead in Minnesota. And while we have seen the race tightening, if Minnesota does remain in play, if the race does stay as tight as it is, I think that's going to have to be a game-time decision about what Senator Obama has to do to bring the state into his column. I don't think that we can predict here, 75 days before the election, what needs to be done.
NORRIS: Brian Melendez, it's been good to talk to you. Thanks so much.
Mr. MELENDEZ: Likewise, Michele, thank you.
NORRIS: Brian Melendez is the chair of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. That's the Minnesota arm of the National Democratic Party.
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