Amendment foes take political blue ribbon

  • Article by: LORI STURDEVANT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 29, 2012 - 10:47 PM

At least, that's how the level of energy and interest looked one recent day at the State Fair .

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Visitors to a Minnesota State Fair booth which supports a Minnesota amendment banning gay marriage talk to a volunteer Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012 in Falcon Heights, Minn., as both sides of the issue made their case to fair goers.

Photo: Jim Mone, Associated Press

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Public opinion polls have their place. But they're not as much fun as the political measurements one can make while sipping lemonade and nibbling mini-doughnuts at the Minnesota State Fair.

When U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar stood Tuesday outside her sturdy little house near the corner of Judson and Underwood Avenues, as she will for a few hours on most days through Labor Day, a line formed. And kept forming. During the half hour I watched, never fewer than 15 people were waiting for a word and a photo with their senior senator.

That ranks DFLer Klobuchar close in queueing-power to the memorable Jesse Ventura. The line outside his 1998 booth was the phenom of that year's fair, and foreshadowed his third-party gubernatorial win better than any poll at the time did.

The sun-drenched line that formed in front of Klobuchar's porch Tuesday provided sweaty confirmation of what this year's dry poll numbers say: She's mighty popular.

At the same hour Tuesday, volunteers in white T-shirts outnumbered nonuniformed civilians at the humbler booth of Klobuchar's re-election challenger, state GOP Rep. Kurt Bills. When I spotted him there a few days before, he was at the center of a cluster of chatty fairgoers.

When scoring political potency at the State Fair, clusters are good. Queues are better. Attracting both, even when there's no candidate to grip and greet, is blue-ribbon politicking.

Minnesotans United for All Families takes this year's prize. Its orange-roofed "Vote No" booth looked to me like the 2012 fair's political epicenter.

The other side of the amendment, urging a "yes" vote on a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage -- is also represented with a booth further up Cooper Street. The "other" amendment, requiring a showing of a government-issued photo ID card to vote, has a modest fair presence, too, both pro and con.

Compared with them, the orange Vote No booth is a beehive of activity. Its T-shirts and orange fans are among the fair's hot items. Minnesotans United spokeswoman Kate Brickman said they ran out of the supply they expected to last all fair long by the end of its first weekend. That was so even though the T-shirts went for a pricey $25.

The T-shirts likely won't be back, Brickman said. The booth was taking orders for the shirts on Tuesday. Volunteers assembled more fans on Sunday night, and by Tuesday morning, that batch was also nearly gone, she said.

"Gone" means they'd left the Vote No booth and been dispersed all over the fairgrounds. The same goes for several dozen Minnesotans United volunteers bearing clipboards and sporting the coveted T-shirt, asking fairgoers to promise to vote no on the marriage amendment.

Brickman said the campaign uses an impressive 40 to 60 volunteers per day at the fair, and will employ at least 300 for the 10-day run. Volunteers aren't hard to find. Two University of Minnesota medical students who grabbed clipboards before heading to a well-trafficked spot said they contacted Minnesotans United, not the other way around.

Vote No volunteers are trained well, I'd say, if Jessica Banks of St. Paul is typical. I watched as the mother of two with a hot-pink ponytail turned a curious middle-aged couple and their young-adult son from Plymouth into pledge signers and volunteers.

"Nobody has the right to tell other people what to do about marriage," the dad, Bill Sigal, said as he signed.

Banks beamed. "The first time you move a voter on this issue, you're hooked," she told me. Her approach: Don't talk about fairness, rights or law. Talk about love, family and commitment. Talk about the pain of being denied the one thing you want most in life.

"These conversations aren't horrible like some other political conversations are," she said. "A lot of these campaigns in other states have lost because they haven't talked about gay people as people who want what everybody wants. We're doing that."

A strong fair showing bodes well for the opposition to the same-sex marriage ban, but it offers no guarantee. Volunteer energy is desirable but numbers will ultimately carry the day. It's possible that "yes" voters are less inclined to sign a pledge while eating a Pronto Pup, but will still prove more numerous come Nov. 6.

But my fair measurement tells me that the marriage amendment will be a prominent and maybe the dominant theme in Minnesota's 2012 campaign. And that the Vote No side has the capacity to deliver the person-to-person grass-roots campaign it says it wants to run. Don't be surprised if someone calls or knocks on your door this fall and asks if you can spare a moment to talk about love.

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Lori Sturdevant is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist. 

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