Students contribute to unusually high caucus participation numbers

Officials from both parties said Minnesota would be a key battleground for the presidency.

Josh Verges

After huge caucus turnouts in Minnesota on Super Tuesday, the stage is set for a hard-fought, eight-month battle until the November presidential election.

Democrats and Republicans agree Minnesota is up for grabs and say both party’s candidates will give it a lot of attention.

President George W. Bush’s national campaign chairman’s visit last Tuesday shows Bush is committed to winning the state, Minnesota College Republicans Chairman Jake Grassel said.

Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party Chairman Mike Erlandson pointed to the seven visits Bush has made to Minnesota since taking office.

“We’re going to have a fierce battle,” Erlandson said.

He said the party’s statewide caucuses had five times as many participants as they did in 2000. He credited the opposition for spurring interest among Democrats.

“George Bush’s failed policies have woken a lot of people up to participation at a higher level,” he said.

Bill Amberg, Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party communications and research director, said vote counts for University-area precincts were unavailable because of the extraordinary turnout.

“I’ve never seen a precinct get over 100 people,” Amberg said. “This is

ridiculous.”

One Minneapolis precinct reported 295 votes, he said.

Students made up a sizeable portion of caucus-goers, in part because two candidates welcomed them, Erlandson said.

“There’s no question that (former Vermont) Gov. (Howard) Dean and Congressman (Dennis) Kucinich (D-Ohio) motivated a lot of people across the state and country,” he said.

Kucinich, the only candidate to visit the University, received approximately 17 percent of DFL caucus votes. Dean took 2 percent of DFL votes in the state and brought in new voters, many of whom switched allegiances when he dropped out of the race.

But young voters also gave the Republican caucuses a boost, Grassel said. Party leaders are now letting students make decisions that shape the party, he said.

“Not only does their vote matter, their volunteer activities really matter,” Grassel said.

The College Republicans have more members across the state than ever, he said. The group’s 5,000 students more than double the membership four years ago.

Caucus participation far exceeded both parties’ expectations, officials said.

With 90 percent of state DFL precincts reporting, 51,518 presidential preference votes were counted.

Officials from the campaigns of Dean and Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., predicted Tuesday

morning that between 12,000 and 20,000 people would vote in the caucuses that day.

Even with Bush established as the party’s candidate, the Minnesota GOP estimated as many as 27,000 Republicans attended Tuesday caucuses.

From the caucuses, Grassel said the party added volunteers to work on Bush’s campaign.

The president’s re-election campaign will run its first television ads in Minnesota and 17 other swing states today.

The Bush campaign has already raised $153 million, according to The Associated Press, and expects to raise another $17 million.

Bush raised $193 million total during the 1999-2000 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Al Gore raised less than $133 million.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., had raised $33 million for his campaign by Jan. 31, according to the center.

To win the state for the eighth consecutive presidential election, Erlandson said Democrats will have to gather votes with the help of grassroots volunteers.

“The Republicans will outspend us,” he said, “So we’ll have to beat them the old-fashioned way.”