ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Republican Rep. Chip Cravaack and his Democratic opponent, Rick Nolan, hunted before dawn Saturday on outings that were as much about showing their comfort with guns as bagging a buck.
Both passed on shooting deer, hoping for bigger prizes — during the hunting season and on Election Day. They're in a hard fight for Cravaack's northeastern Minnesota seat in one of the nation's top House races.
Cravaack, 53, spent some time in the woods but then headed to a Duluth gear and gun store to campaign with National Rifle Association president David Keene and Rep. John Kline, R-Minn. Cravaack is trying to hang onto a seat he won in 2010 after it had been in Democratic hands for more than 60 years. The national parties and their allies have spent nearly $9 million on the race, largely on negative TV ads.
The candidates — who together spent less than $2 million by mid-October — both lamented the onslaught of ads from outside groups.
"People are just kind of tired of it right now," Cravaack said. "They just want to refocus. They want to get the economy going again."
Nolan, 68, emphasized his support for Second Amendment gun rights as he prepared to campaign close to his home near Brainerd. The former congressman has been the target of ads attacking him for missed votes and supporting raises when he served more than three decades ago.
"If I had some more money, I would be putting up another ad that points out that I was a very respected legislator," Nolan said.
Elsewhere in the state, volunteers and candidates hustled to make phone calls, knock on doors and remind people to vote Tuesday.
One of the biggest turnout efforts came from opponents of proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Minnesotans United for All Families spokeswoman Kate Brickman said the group had 15,000 volunteers signed up for shifts over the last eight days before the election. In an effort to reach a million voters by Election Day, they were contacting both those who oppose the ballot question and those who hadn't made up their minds yet.
The group also brought in conservative CNN commentator Margaret Hoover to urge conservatives to vote against the amendment.
"We know that every last vote is critically important," Brickman said.
Supporters of the marriage amendment have urged pastors to preach in favor of it during church services this weekend and to remind parishioners not to skip the question, since blank votes count as no votes. Minnesota for Marriage spokesman Chuck Darrell said the group has about 1,500 volunteers aiming to call 100,000 voters a day during the final stretch.
Volunteers working for Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney were gearing up for Sunday, when Romney running mate Paul Ryan and former President Bill Clinton are both due in Minnesota. Ryan will aim to give the GOP faithful a last-minute shot of energy at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, a few hours before Clinton speaks in St. Cloud — his second trip to the state in less than a week.
The visits are a sign of the national interest that has come to Minnesota as Romney makes a late play for a state that hasn't backed a Republican for president since 1972.
"Having Paul Ryan in town no question will continue to motivate people and keep them enthusiastic," state GOP Chairman Pat Shortridge said. Financial problems have forced the party to rely more on volunteers than paid staff in its turnout effort this year.
Clinton's visit also is meant to help Democrat Jim Graves, a hotel magnate who is challenging Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann in an expensive race north and west of Minneapolis funded mainly by the candidates themselves. Graves got help Saturday from Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a heavy favorite in her re-election bid against Republican Kurt Bills. Klobuchar appeared with Graves at a Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party rally in St. Cloud, while Bachmann visited volunteers at her campaign office there, posting pictures on Twitter.