Singing from the same sheet of music, the leaders of Minnesota's DFL and Republican parties kicked off a two-week campaign Tuesday to whip up interest in the Feb. 5 precinct caucuses.
Those caucuses, held in more than 4,000 schools, churches and community centers, will be conducted on a day that has become a de facto presidential primary, with residents of 24 states choosing their favorite candidates.
DFL chair Brian Melendez and GOP chairman Ron Carey held a news conference in the hope of increasing turnout at the caucuses, which are usually lightly attended.
Four years ago, the DFL attracted more than 50,000 caucusgoers and the Republicans fewer than 27,000.
On Feb. 5, the DFL hopes for a turnout of about 70,000 and the Republicans between 30,000 and 50,000, the party leaders said.
"We're here to set our disagreements aside," Melendez said. "Minnesotans' voices really will be heard."
Added Carey: "People need to come forward. If people want to get engaged, this is the time to do it."
In past presidential election cycles, the state's caucuses have been held too late to be meaningful because the parties' nominations already had been nailed down. So the parties' leaders agreed to leap ahead more than a month, to what some analysts have called Thermonuclear Tuesday.
"We're confident we made the right choice," Carey said. "We're getting a lot more attention than if we'd waited another month," Melendez said.
Both parties and the Minnesota secretary of state's office are trying to encourage participation by helping residents find and understand the caucuses.
Here are the basics:
WHEN AND WHERE
Caucuses will start at 7 p.m. To find caucus locations:
DFL: www.dflcaucuses.org or call 651-293-1200
GOP: www.mngop.org or call 651-222-0022
Secretary of state: Online at caucusfinder.sos.state.mn.us or call 651-215-1440 (The office also has information on the caucuses to be held Feb. 5 by the Independence Party, or call 651-487-9700.)
The caucuses are the first step by the parties to choose candidates ranging from the state House to president and to begin shaping the party platforms. Caucusgoers offer proposed platform resolutions, debate the merits of candidates and sort themselves out by deciding who will run as a delegate at the next stage of the party's nominating process.
Final decisions on which presidential candidates will be supported by Minnesota national convention delegates will be made at state conventions in early summer. Minnesota's primary in September will not include voting on presidential candidates.
Although the entire caucus normally lasts a few hours, the presidential preference voting will be among the first orders of business.
People attending the DFL caucuses will be able to cast a secret ballot for a presidential candidate between 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Caucusgoers are not obligated to stay for the remaining caucus business.
Similarly, those who attend the GOP caucuses will conduct a vote during the first half-hour and can forgo the rest of the meeting.
However, it is not possible to vote in either party's preference ballot without going to the caucus location.
HOW THEY DIFFER
Although both parties will produce a winning presidential candidate on Feb. 5, the DFL caucuses will provide the final word, while the GOP caucuses won't.
The results of the DFL ballot will be binding and will determine how 72 of Minnesota's 88 delegates to the Democratic National Convention will be allocated. (The remaining so-called "superdelegates," party and public officials, aren't formally pledged to a candidate.)
The GOP vote is, in effect, a beauty contest because it won't be binding on the 41 delegates the party sends to the Republican National Convention. Although it will provide the first indication of candidates' relative strength among party activists in the state, the delegates won't be pledged to candidates until the GOP's state convention.
Bob von Sternberg • 612-673-7184