ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — After months of being taken for granted as a Democratic lock, Minnesota is getting a fresh burst of attention in the presidential race.
Both sides escalated their efforts Friday, issuing an incessant stream of phone calls and leaving glossy reminders of their candidates on doorknobs. And Republican nominee Mitt Romney and Democratic President Barack Obama are sending their top surrogates — Romney running mate Paul Ryan and former President Bill Clinton — to the state Sunday, energizing volunteers who are working long hours to make sure people remember to vote on Election Day.
"This is the No. 1 thing that people can be doing right now to turn out Republican votes," said Kurt Sorensen, manager of the GOP's Burnsville campaign office. "If they're reminded how important their individual vote is, they'll go out and get out to the polls."
The state is seemingly built for Obama.
At 5.8 percent, unemployment is a full two percentage points beneath the national average. His 10-point win in 2008 was the latest in a Democratic winning streak stretching to 1976. The state GOP has been wracked by internal feuding, deep financial problems and the lack of any statewide officeholder.
But a late incursion by Romney and his allies is forcing Democrats to fight to keep reliable turf and 10 electoral votes in Obama's column.
"I've been saying along to anyone who would listen that Minnesota is a must-win state for the president and elections are close in Minnesota," said Obama's state director, Jeff Blodgett. "It's just the nature of the electorate here."
While Romney has made only a token investment in advertising, groups on his side have pumped millions into Minnesota since the summer to soften the ground. Two conservative political action committees said they would spend more than $1 million each in the final week alone. Their commercials had gone unchecked until Obama's campaign moved in with a heavy infusion of ads.
Blodgett said Obama has spent years cultivating the state with campaign house parties, phone banks and neighborhood canvasses. His campaign has a dozen offices around Minnesota whose staff and volunteers are either on the telephone or knocking on doors.
Jim Niland, who heads the state Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party's voter turnout operation, said that effort got under way this year about 10 days earlier than usual. DFL volunteers had reached more than a quarter-million voters by Thursday.