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Thousands to take part in Minnesota Caucuses Tuesday

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Thousands to take part in Minnesota Caucuses Tuesday
Brainerd MN 506 James St. / PO Box 974 56401

ST. PAUL — The road to the Minnesota governor’s office, a U.S. Senate seat and hundreds of other elective offices starts Tuesday night in classrooms, town halls and community centers across the state.

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That’s when thousands of voters will trudge out in the midwinter cold to attend their political parties’ caucuses in the state’s 4,102 precincts. Caucuses are neighborhood meetings where those attending set in motion the machinery for endorsing candidates for the fall elections.

For the contenders, the caucuses are the first battleground for winning the hearts and minds of the party faithful.

The meetings, particularly in nonpresidential election years like this one, tend to be dominated by loyalists, but they are open to anyone.

Why should you go? The chairmen of Minnesota’s three major political parties — Ken Martin of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, Mark Jenkins of the Independence Party and Keith Downey of the Republican Party — offered several reasons last week during a joint Capitol news conference.

“This is your government,” Jenkins said. “It’s yours only if you participate in it.”

If you’re frustrated by what’s going on in St. Paul or Washington, the caucuses are “your opportunity to have your voice heard … (and) be part of the solution,” Downey said. “You really can make a difference.”

Big money dominates politics today. “The antidote to that is grassroots involvement,” Martin said. “People-powered campaigns” that start at caucuses enable underdog candidates, such as the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, to organize average citizens and sometimes win David-versus-Goliath contests.

Caucus attendees will elect local party officers and debate issues they want their party to support. But the main attraction is the chance to elect the delegates to the party’s upcoming conventions that will endorse the party’s candidates for offices.

For Republicans, another big draw will be the chance to vote in straw polls for the party’s candidates for governor and U.S. senator. The straw polls are nonbinding beauty contests, and they are not accurate forecasters of who will be endorsed next spring.

But they do test a candidate’s support and organization and help thin out the field. Candidates who fare poorly in straw polls often drop out of the race.

Six candidates for governor and six Senate contenders will be on the GOP ballot. Those running to unseat DFL Gov. Mark Dayton are teacher Rob Farnsworth, businessman Scott Honour, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, former House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, state Sen. Dave Thompson and state Rep. Kurt Zellers.

The candidates seeking to unseat DFL Sen. Al Franken are state Rep. Jim Abeler, St. Louis County Commissioner Chris Dahlberg, businessman Mike McFadden, farmer Monti Moreno, state Sen. Julianne Ortman and retired Army chaplain Harold Shudlick.

Since Dayton and Franken are not being challenged for the DFL endorsements, the party will not conduct a straw poll.

The Independence Party doesn’t have any announced candidates for governor or senator yet, but Jenkins said the party will conduct straw polls on whether to increase the minimum wage and on expanding mining in the state. The party’s congressional district chairs may add other issues to the ballots.

The Independence Party offers three ways to participate in its caucuses: in person; on a live, online caucus by computer that evening; or through an online caucus that will be available Feb. 4-18.

“Caucus from home,” Jenkins said.

The 4th Congressional District and St. Paul Green Party also will hold a caucus at St. Paul Central High School on Tuesday night.

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.

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