All political eyes were on Iowa Thursday night but Minnesotans will get their chance to weigh in on the 2008 presidential race at 7 p.m. Feb. 5 during precinct caucuses.
Minnesota's major parties, the Republican, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor and the Independence, are all planning caucuses in the Brainerd lakes area.
Gayle Nielsen of Fort Ripley, a spokesman from the Green Party, said her party hasn't decided whether it will conduct caucuses yet. The party has conducted caucuses in previous years but the meetings haven't been well attended, Nielsen said. A decision could come after the Green Party's state meeting on Saturday.
Marcia Ferris, Crow Wing County DFL chair, said she expects a good turnout when all of the county's precincts meet at Brainerd High School. She said this year's presidential straw ballot is binding, meaning it will have a bearing on how many delegates will represent a presidential candidate at the national convention in Denver.
Ferris said she has no predictions for the Iowa Democratic caucuses but thinks Iowans will use common sense and pick good candidates. While she has her favorite presidential candidate she's not ready to endorse one. She said she's happy with all three front-runners, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.; Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.; and John Edwards.
Literature from various candidates will be available at the DFL county caucus, she said. Ferris said there will not be a straw vote taken for the U.S. Senate seat.
Weather could play a role in the turnout, she said, recalling a glare ice storm that kept the turnout down in an earlier caucus. She encouraged anyone who will be 18 by Nov. 4 to attend a caucus.
"I got a thing in my kitchen that says, 'The world is run by those who show up,'" she said.
Dale Walz, Crow Wing County Republican Party chair, said he believes his party's precincts will meet at four locations: Crosby-Ironton High School, Crosslake Community Center, Central Lakes College and Nisswa Elementary School.
A non-binding presidential straw poll will be conducted, he said, to provide a sense of where the various presidential candidates stand with potential delegates.
Walz, a former state legislator, said the GOP presidential race is a competitive race and that could spur interest in the party gatherings.
"I've been to them (caucuses) in years past where they're not real electrifying," he said. "I think there will be pretty good size turnout."
Craig Swaggert, chair of the Minnesota Independence Party, said he expects to have caucuses at between 60 and 70 different sites, concentrating in areas where the party has fared well. He said there will definitely be a caucus site in the Brainerd-Baxter area.
Swaggert, of Minneapolis, was at his Emily vacation home when he contacted the Brainerd Dispatch. He said there may be a straw poll, at their local caucus, based on possible candidates. Swaggert said he personally favors a primary rather than a caucus system because he believes it is more reflective of the voters' wishes.
"One of the things in Minnesota that is really interesting is the really significant portion of voters who view themselves as independents," Swaggert said. "We're a party that's about change."
MIKE O'ROURKE may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5860.
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