With just a week to go until Minnesotans make their voices heard in the presidential campaign, candidates are making the state a target in the fight for the Republican and Democratic nominations.

Candidates and surrogates are descending on the state, one of 24 that will hold primaries or caucuses on Feb. 5, which has become a de facto national primary day.

Democratic candidate John Edwards planned to attend a rally at a St. Paul union hall tonight. Barack Obama's campaign announced Monday that he would hold a rally on Saturday.

"Minnesota, for the first time in our memory, is going to matter and matter big time in presidential politics," said Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak on Monday, who chairs Obama's campaign in the state and announced his candidate's appearance. No details were available.

Although Minnesota has become increasingly competitive -- and important -- in presidential general elections, it hasn't been so during the nominating process.

Until this year, the DFL and Republican caucuses have been held so late in the election cycle that nominations were effectively sewn up by the time Minnesotans had a chance to vote. When officials of both parties saw how many other states were cramming their contests into Feb. 5, they agreed to do the same.

The parties, and the campaigns, are pushing to increase turnout at the caucuses, which are usually lightly attended.

Surrogates urge involvement

Stand-ins for the candidates are also active in Minnesota. Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, former senator from South Dakota, planned to stump in the Twin Cities today for Obama.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee had a close surrogate working the Twin Cities on his behalf Monday: His wife, Janet.

She visited an anti-poverty group in St. Louis Park, following an appearance at Northwestern College in Roseville where she spoke to hundreds of students at the nondenominational Christian school. She talked about her faith, her relationship with her husband and praised his competence.

"Caucus for us," she told them. "If you're serious and want to get involved ... this group right here can change an entire election. You need to get involved, folks."

Both Huckabees hail "from a place called Hope -- you may have heard of that before," gently mocking Bill Clinton's invocation of the hometown all three share. "But he only started being from there when it sounded good and he decided to run."

She said her 11 years as Arkansas' First Lady "give me more experience than anyone else on either side. [The Clintons] were there for eight years, but he's never been a First Lady."

There was no word Monday from Hillary Clinton's campaign on whether she or the former president plan to campaign in Minnesota.

However, the campaign announced its plan to have what it called "rapid responders" working in all of the Feb. 5 states, "a national group of truth tellers who will respond to inaccurate or misleading attacks." Former Sen. Mark Dayton and Tarryl Clark, assistant state Senate majority leader, have been given the job in Minnesota.

For Edwards, with no victories to date, Minnesota will be one of about 10 states where his campaign is concentrating on Feb. 5, his campaign strategists said Monday.

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