Five days before Minnesota's precinct caucuses, there are fresh indications that some presidential candidates are turning their attention toward the state.
Republican Mitt Romney plans a stop in Minnesota sometime Saturday, Sunday or Monday as part of a tour of several battleground states taking part in Super Tuesday contests.
A spokeswoman for the former Massachusetts governor's campaign said Thursday that details of the visit have not been firmed up.
Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported that Minnesota currently isn't on GOP front-runner John McCain's tentative travel schedule.
Texas Rep. Ron Paul will participate in a 7 p.m. rally on Monday at the University of Minnesota's Coffman Union.
On the Democratic side, Barack Obama's Minnesota campaign reported that tickets for a Saturday afternoon rally in Minneapolis featuring Obama were snatched up quickly on Thursday. More than 15,000 tickets for the Target Center event were distributed online and thousands more were handed out at campaign offices.
Although state campaign officials for Hillary Rodham Clinton say they hope the candidate, former President Bill Clinton or their daughter, Chelsea, will hit Minnesota before Tuesday's caucuses, there's been no word on whether that will happen.New poll hard to interpret
Amid the activity on the ground in the state, a new poll shows that Minnesotans are narrowly divided over the leading Democratic presidential candidates and favoring McCain in the Republican contest.
In the poll, conducted by Minnesota Public Radio and the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute, the Arizona senator has the support of 41 percent of the state's Republicans, followed by Mike Huckabee with 22 percent and Romney with 17 percent.
That's different from the national picture, which shows the former Massachusetts governor closer behind McCain and the former Arkansas governor trailing far behind.
Among Democrats, the poll shows Clinton ahead of Obama, 40 percent to 33 percent. But that gap is within the poll's margin of sampling error of 4.5 percentage points plus or minus.
"You can view it as a lead [for Clinton], but there are a lot of caveats," said Larry Jacobs, who heads the institute's Center for the Study of Politics and Governance. "It's not looking at likely voters, or likely caucus-goers."
That last point is the biggest caution of all: The parties' caucuses combined are expected to attract no more than about 100,000 Minnesotans, barely 3 percent of the state's registered voters. "It's very hard to poll them, very tricky, and the race has been very turbulent," Jacobs said.
The poll also found that 12 percent of the state's Democrats support former Sen. John Edwards, who dropped out of the race Wednesday. That raises the question of where those voters will go now.
"I think a lot will end up going to Obama," Jacobs said. "He seems to be working the Edwards crowd hard, but there's a lot of flux here."
The Republican results left him "absolutely stunned," Jacobs said, showing that Huckabee apparently has been maintaining a stealth connection with evangelical Christians, while Romney has had no real campaign operation here until now.
"And I just didn't see McCain running that high," he said.Ramstad endorses McCain
McCain got another Minnesota boost Thursday, when retiring Rep. Jim Ramstad endorsed him.
"I've worked with John McCain and I know he is a tireless worker whose word is his bond," Ramstad said in a prepared statement. "Sen. McCain has a proven record of working in a bipartisan, common-sense way to get things done."Paul airs campaign ads
Paul, who was supported by 5 percent of the state's Republicans in the poll, has become the first GOP candidate to begin airing campaign ads in Minnesota.
Paul, whose low poll ratings are belied by his prodigious fundraising, began running both TV and radio ads this week.
"Our dollar, our economy and our nation are in serious trouble," one of the ads says. "Who saw it coming? Ron Paul. Who will lead us back to prosperity? Ron Paul."
Paul's campaign has operated a Minnesota campaign office for several weeks.Political Hankies
A local entrepreneur plans to use the Obama rally to kick-start his new business, Political Hankies. Bill Davies has given about 1,200 of the Homer Hanky-styled cloths to the Obama campaign, in the hopes they'll be distributed and get media coverage.
"It's a way to get visibility," he said. "We definitely will be a presence at the Republican Convention [in St. Paul]."
Bob von Sternberg • 612-673-7184