Gore courts Minnesota’s swing voters

Erin Ghere

With rock music blasting and a sea of blue Gore-Lieberman 2000 signs greeting him, presidential candidate Al Gore pleaded Saturday night to keep Minnesota a Democratic stronghold.
With only nine days remaining before the general election, Vice President Gore is deadlocked with the Republican candidate, Texas Gov. George W. Bush. A Star Tribune poll last week put Bush 3 percent ahead of Gore, a statistical dead heat.
The briskness of the nighttime temperature rally didn’t stop a crowd of between 5,000 and 10,000 — many bundled in hats and gloves — from filling an area at 5th Avenue and Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis.
“I need your hearts,” Gore said emphatically, “I need your passion. Early to bed, early to rise, fight like hell and organize.”
Before his arrival, other Minnesota DFL leaders addressed the crowd, including Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, Fourth District U.S. congressional candidate Betty McCollum and U.S. Senate candidate Mark Dayton.
An unexpected guest spoke as well: Lt. Gov. Mae Schunk, who gave a long and enthusiastic endorsement of Gore. Schunk, who has stayed out of the limelight as Gov. Jesse Ventura’s second-in- command, strayed from Ventura, who has said he will not endorse any presidential candidates.
The vice president gave a 30-minute speech detailing his vision for a strengthened Social Security system, a balanced budget each year, tax cuts for the middle class, prescription drug benefits for seniors, a patients’ bill of rights and campaign finance reform.
“If you elect me, I’ll make it happen,” Gore said. “My opponent will not.”
He touted the Clinton administration’s accomplishments, but said, “I am not satisfied … My pledge to you in this campaign is, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
Gore also touched on his plan to make up to $10,000 of college tuition per year tax deductible for parents.
Addressing some of his critics, he said: “I know, I know very well, that I may not always be the most exciting politician. But I will fight, I will work hard, I will never let you down and I will never give up.”
During her speech, Sayles Belton called Minnesota “Gore country.”
The state has voted Democratic in nine of the last 10 presidential elections — a record no other state can claim. But the simple fact that Gore even visited Minnesota this late in the race shows how vital it is to a Gore victory and how worried the campaign is that it will not get the state’s votes.
Minnesota holds only 10 of the 538 votes in the electoral college, but it is a handful that could win or lose the election.
As such, Gore called Minnesota “the heart and soul of the Democratic Party … I know this state can and will make the difference in this election.”
One reason for the shift might be the number of independent voters — those who elected Ventura. Many of those people are now supporting Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, which cuts into Gore’s support.
While introducing Gore, Sen. Paul Wellstone, DFL-Minn., tried to appeal to Nader supporters at the rally and throughout the state.
“I have tremendous respect for Ralph Nader and have stood with Ralph on every single issue,” Wellstone said, “but it would be a horrible, horrible irony if a vote for Ralph Nader meant George W. Bush becomes president of the United States.”
A small group of Nader supporters attended the Gore rally, occasionally chanting “We want Nader,” but quickly combatted with and were drowned out by “We want Gore” chants.
“I say to all the independent voters, Reform Party members, Green Party members, you are all welcome,” Gore said. “We want the majority to take this country in the right direction.”
University freshmen Neal Steffel and Brook Thompson attended the rally for a chance to see the vice president and to make an educated decision on Election Day.
Steffel, 19, said he liked what Gore had to say but wanted to learn more about his other options before deciding whom to vote for.
“It’s good to come and experience this,” he said, adding all of the campaign rhetoric gets confusing.
Of the low voter turnout in their age group, Thompson, 18, said it angers her that some don’t think its important or don’t care.
Bush has not been to Minnesota yet during his campaign, but Republican officials are trying to organize a visit sometime this week.
Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 7.

Erin Ghere welcomes comments at [email protected]