ROCHESTER -- President Bush made his fourth swing through Minnesota Friday since taking office, promoting Minnesota's slate of Republican candidates.
"I'm here to support the ticket," he said, breezing through the names of nearly every statewide GOP candidate.
The trip was brief, but effective, drawing about 5,000 for the 40-minute speech at Rochester Community and Technical College.
"It definitely gets media coverage because a president doesn't come to town -- particularly in Minnesota -- very often," said Lilly Goren, chairwoman of the political science department at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul. "We're kind of off the beaten path."
Bush was greeted by about a capacity crowd, cheering loudly and waving American flags.
"I love the values of this part of the world -- faith, family and love of country," he said.
He singled out Senate hopeful Norm Coleman, the former mayor of St. Paul, and gubernatorial candidate Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota's House majority leader, as two people Republicans should be putting their time and energy behind.
The president said he needs Coleman to win Democrat Paul Wellstone's Senate seat to help advance GOP initiatives.
"He's not one of those polarizing types of people. ... Norm Coleman is a uniter," he said.
Bush, the former governor of Texas, said Pawlenty has proven himself a capable leader -- that he knows how to keep government within a budget and improve schools.
"I know something about what it takes to be a governor, and you have a good man running," the president said.
Last year, Vice President Dick Cheney called Pawlenty the day he had planned to announce a run for Senate and asked him to let Coleman run instead. Pawlenty did and has since said it was the best thing that could have happened to him because he has small children and would prefer to stay in Minnesota.
Rep. Mark Kennedy warmed up the crowd before Bush's arrival, urging them to go to the polls on election day.
"Some people do win by 155 votes," he said, referring to his margin of victory over former congressman David Minge in 2000.
It's not a coincidence that Bush was visiting Minnesota two weeks before election day, or that Rochester was his destination.
Other parties are making inroads into the traditional Republican stronghold in southern Minnesota this election year.
Independence Party gubernatorial candidate Tim Penny used to represent the region when he was a congressman. Many local residents are supporting him now in his run for governor, potentially siphoning votes from Pawlenty.
Ginny Ties, 45, a legal secretary, took day off work to see Bush for the first time in person.
"I thought it was wonderful," she gushed. "He's such a real person."
Although inspired by the speech, Ties wasn't going to commit to helping out on any campaigns this year, saying only "I'm going to keep voting for sure."
She supported Penny when he was a congressman, but she's not supporting him now.
"I think Tim Penny hasn't stuck with what he believes in, he's like a chameleon," she said, citing his changed views on issues including abortion.
State Democratic Party Chairman Mike Erlandson said that if Penny doesn't win Rochester he may take enough votes from Pawlenty to throw the area to Democrat Roger Moe.
The president's visit is the latest in a string of celebrity appearances here.
Gloria Steinem stumped for Moe and U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone earlier this week. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani made a campaign appearance with Coleman on Thursday and a few weeks ago, actor Alec Baldwin visited Minnesota on behalf of Democrats.
"Regardless of what side you are on in politics, it is exciting to have our president or our former president or a celebrity come to town," Erlandson said.
The number of high profile visits this year illustrates how important Minnesota is on the national political scene.
Democrats control the Senate by one seat and Wellstone is considered one of the most liberal members of Congress, making him a target of the White House.
Bush and Cheney are doing their part to keep him from returning to Washington in January. On Friday, for instance, Wellstone was endorsed by firefighters and held news conferences on what he wants the federal government do for public safety.
But the initiatives were eclipsed by Bush's visit.
"They can't get fair coverage the same day unless somebody like Bill Clinton came to town," Goren said.
"The Coleman campaign and Pawlenty campaign will get a boost," she said. "They'll get at least a little bit of media coverage that they wouldn't have otherwise."
How much that translates into swaying voters remains to be seen, she said.
In the past, Wellstone has gotten similar help. In 1996, President Clinton visited Minnesota for Wellstone.
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