President Obama repeated his 2008 victory in Minnesota on Tuesday, carrying a comfortable lead over Mitt Romney throughout the evening.
"It was a big night for democracy," state campaign director Jeff Blodgett said as Obama's triumph became apparent. "The voter turnout was high. Young people turned out in big numbers. That kind of politics can win elections. And it's the right way to do it. People versus super PACS, and that's what it was about here. So I'm proud of how we won Minnesota tonight."
Four years ago, Obama bested John McCain by taking 54 percent of the popular vote over McCain's 44 percent; the margin appeared to be slightly smaller this time, but enough to give Obama the state's 10 electoral votes.
Although Minnesota long has been a Democratic stronghold in presidential races, it looked to be teetering on the edge of battleground territory late in the race, prompting Romney and Obama to send their top surrogates into Minnesota to bolster support just days before Tuesday's election. An October Star Tribune Minnesota Poll showed Obama was still in the lead, but it had shrunk to a 3-percentage point advantage down from an 8-point lead a month earlier.
Romney running mate Paul Ryan dropped into Minnesota on Sunday, holding a rally at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, followed by a Monday visit from one of Romney's sons. Up until then, the Romney campaign had largely sidestepped Minnesota and had no field organization. Romney officials couldn't be reached on Tuesday night.
Although Minnesota hasn't gone for a Republican in a presidential race since Richard Nixon in 1972, University of Minnesota Prof. Larry Jacobs is baffled why Romney didn't invest more in Minnesota.
"There was a lot of talk about Romney closing and building momentum in the state," he said. "The big question that's going to be asked of the Romney campaign in Minnesota is why did they wait so long and why didn't they invest in people on the ground. If you look at the numbers, President Bush was within 3 points or less when he ran in 2000 and 2004. He really competed for the state, and this is a state where we've had Republican governors, Republican senators, a Republican Legislature up until tonight. So Republicans can do well here. It's just a mystery as to why Romney didn't invest. I think it was a bad judgment on his part."
National campaign manager David Axelrod said last week that he would shave his signature mustache if Obama lost Minnesota. Throughout the campaign, however, Blodgett said he was taking nothing for granted.
As Obama's lead narrowed late in the race, former President Bill Clinton hit the road and popped into St. Cloud on Sunday to rally DFL volunteers and help shore up support in a bank of Midwestern states, including Ohio and Wisconsin. It was Clinton's second trip to Minnesota in less than a week.
"Minnesota has a tradition of close elections and our operating assumption was that this was going to be a close election," Blodgett said. "The way you win close elections in Minnesota is by building a grass-roots organization and using people to turn out the vote in the final days. And that's what we did. I think the way we won is an important lesson."
Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie had predicted about 3 million voters, or about 80 percent of those eligible to vote, would go to the polls Tuesday.
Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788