Precinct caucuses: Governor campaigns drive interest
ST. PAUL -- The precinct caucus excitement from two years ago is not felt in 2010 by most Minnesotans, but a couple dozen governor candidates are working day and night to get their supporters to turn out Tuesday night.
The every-other-year caucus night is the first chance most Minnesotans will have to take sides in the crowded governor's race and party leaders expect a large turnout, although smaller than the overflow crowds reported at many meetings two years ago when an open presidential race attracted many new to the process.
Those attending Republican, Independence and Democratic-Farmer-Labor party caucuses Tuesday will be asked to vote in straw polls for governor. While not binding, the polls may give clear indications about who is leading, if anyone.
"I think Republicans and Democrats are going to have good turnouts because there are so many campaigns," said Michael Brodkorb, deputy chairman of the state Republican Party
A more substantial, although less flashy, job at the caucuses will be electing delegates and alternates to county and district party conventions. It is the beginning of the process leading up to spring state party convention that will endorse governor candidates.
Caucuses also elect party leaders and give Minnesotans a say in platforms that define each party.
Most campaigns urge supporters to attend.
The parties' straw polls should help campaigns figure out their strategy as April state conventions near.
"What folks will look for, aside from who won, will be where was the level of support?" Brodkorb said.
Campaigns examine where their support is: urban, suburban, rural. With votes broken down by precinct, campaigns will have a lot of information once the votes are counted.
Most caucuses begin at 7 p.m., although Constitution Party meeting times vary and the Green Party plans a 6:30 p.m. start. Anyone may attend a caucus. Those who will be eligible to vote, live in the precinct and generally agree with the party's principles may participate.
"Precinct caucuses provide a great opportunity for citizens to get involved in the political process at the grass-roots level," Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said.
Most of the Tuesday night attention will be on the governor straw poll.
Democrat and Republican candidates have crisscrossed the state for months taking part in party forums.
Former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, one of a dozen DFL candidates, guessed he has taken part in 70 such forums.
Dayton is the rare candidate who has not campaigned for caucus support. In fact, he asked that his name not be on the straw poll ballot.
"There are not a lot of delegates who will consider me for their support," he said, in light of his opposition to state political conventions determining the party's nominee.
Dayton plans to ignore the convention's April decision and take the race to a primary election in the fall, saying a small number of convention delegates deciding who wins "is just not democracy."
Susan Gaertner also said she will go to a primary and Matt Entenza has hinted at it.
All major Republican candidates promise to abide by their party's endorsement, which starts with Tuesday's caucuses.
Most candidates have spent most of their time in recent months wooing those who may show up Tuesday night.
A letter state Sen. Tom Bakk sent recently was typical. It began: "At the Feb. 2 precinct caucuses Minnesotans will vote in a straw ballot for the gubernatorial candidate they believe has the leadership and experience to solve the state's challenges and move us in the right direction again. I hope you will take a look at my leadership and experience as you consider who to support Feb. 2."
Interest groups also urge supporters to attend.
"With the farm economy and rural jobs being so closely linked to the well being of our rural communities, it is really important for rural Minnesotans to attend their precinct caucus to express their concerns and thoughts and get their voices heard," said Doug Peterson, Minnesota Farmers Union president. "In Minnesota, there are over 5 million people; 80,000 of them are listed as farmers, which is another reason to attend -- to be at the table when policies are discussed and agendas are set."
On the Web:
To find a caucus site: http://caucusfinder.sos.state.mn.us/
Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.