ST. PAUL -- The last time Minnesota backed a Republican for the White House, "The Godfather" dominated the box office, the Dow Jones industrial average was just cracking 1,000 and the Twins' Rod Carew led the American League with a .318 batting average.
Twenty-eight years later, polls show George W. Bush has a strong shot at capturing Minnesota. Aside from 1984, when Ronald Reagan lost here by 3,761 votes, no Republican has come close to duplicating Richard Nixon's 1972 win.
The prospect of victory has Minnesota's 34 delegates riding unusually high hopes as they prepare for the Republican National Convention that opens in Philadelphia on Monday. Bush and Vice President Al Gore, the presumed nominees for the Republicans and the Democrats, are locked in a statistical dead heat.
"It's just an incredible development," said Chris Georgacas, a delegate from Mahtomedi, who was only 9 years old the year Nixon claimed the state's 10 electoral votes.
By contrast, Bill Clinton held a 24-point lead over Republican challenger Bob Dole at this point in 1996 and a 19-point lead over George Bush, the Texas governor's father, in the weeks leading up to the 1992 GOP convention.
Georgacas, whose only other convention as a delegate was in 1996, notices a stark difference in attitude.
"In 1996, there was sort of cautious optimism with a dose of reality," he said, "whereas, in the year 2000, there is unbridled enthusiasm."
He's not the only one making that assessment.
"We're more fired up, we're more engaged, we're more energized," said St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman, a former Democrat leading Bush's Minnesota campaign. "We've got a dog in this fight." This is Coleman's first convention since switching parties in 1996.
Judie Fotsch, a delegate from St. Paul, suspects that Bush's appeal to Minnesotans is a product of his "less government, less taxes" message coupled with Clinton-Gore fatigue. She said Bush comes across as genuine and not overly political.
"I don't think he's coming out with a lot of fluff," Fotsch said. "He thinks about what he says and he's very sincere."
For the most part, Minnesota delegates will play a minor role at the largely scripted convention. Bush tied up the nomination months ago and he put to rest speculation about his vice presidential choice with Tuesday's announcement of former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney.
They'll get to cheer on U.S. Sen. Rod Grams, who is scheduled to address the convention on Monday. The looming question is whether there will be another abortion fight at another GOP gathering.
If there is, the Minnesota delegation almost certainly will line up behind those who want to keep a plank in the party platform that calls for a constitutional ban on abortions.
But convention-goers want to keep the focus on Bush and carry a message of party unity into the fall elections. And they hope their status as a state that's up for grabs will come with a perk: attention.
Neil Breitbarth, of Fairmont, felt ignored four years ago in San Diego.
"We're going to get some exposure and get some media looking at Minnesota for once in a presidential race," said Breitbarth.
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