One battle for America's future took place on consecutive nights recently inside two homes within a chip and a putt of the Edina Country Club. Pleas for money, time and energy were made over chardonnay and cheese.

Two dozen DFLers crammed into Danielle Arlowe's rambler on Golf Terrace, vowing to hammer the phones and "knock on doors until my knuckles bleed" for Barack Obama.

The very next night, across the street from Arlowe's house, Republicans met up next to the marble elephant in Susan Covnick's living room and plotted their strategy.

Four years ago, there were more lawn signs around for President Bush than John Kerry, said Covnick. "But the Democrats are moving in."

Campaigning is reaching a fever pitch in Minnesota, which could play a pivotal role in who reaches the White House because both parties believe the state is up for grabs. The fight for votes is intensifying the most in battleground towns across the metro area -- places where the 2004 presidential balloting nearly ended in a tie.

From Anoka to Hastings, from Eagan to Edina, political foot soldiers are gathering in kitchens and living rooms. Arlowe, a novice DFL organizer whose husband leans Libertarian, and Covnick, known to her neighbors as "Miss Republican," are among those vying to win the votes of friends and neighbors.

So is a Coon Rapids teenager whose passion is Mitt Romney's campaign and a Bloomington woman who hobbles aboard a Metro Mobility van most days to work at Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign headquarters.

And those are just the first wave of volunteers as one of most hard-fought campaigns in decades gets underway in the state.

Pockets of fervent belief

Political pundits have generally divided the American electorate into red and blue states, and that's how the electoral vote is decided. But some say the real lines are much more compact, with people dividing themselves into pockets of fervent belief systems and voting patterns.

"States are the wrong way to look at how people live," said Bill Bishop, author of the upcoming book, "The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-minded America is Tearing Us Apart."

"People live in communities," Bishop said. "It's at that community level that people are becoming more segregated."

Edina was among the places Bishop visited while researching his book, and he noticed how you can see the political demarcation along the streets.

"You'd see these smaller houses with funky homemade Halloween decorations in the yard," said Bishop. "They're Democrats. Then down the road you'd see these huge houses [with more elaborate decorations]."

Those are the Republicans.

In Edina, France Avenue and 54th Street marks an intersection of precincts that are solidly Democratic on one side and Republican on the other. France and Hwy. 100 are also among the streets that help to cut the suburb into a checkerboard of red and blue.

"People used to blame gerrymandering, but now people generally prefer to live next to people who agree with them," Bishop said. "It makes society more polarized and makes it harder to compromise. People in the middle disappear. National politics get translated locally and local politics get national.

"That's not just an Edina story; it's a national story."

Two tales of intensity

There were 16 cities across the metro area, including Edina, where Bush and Kerry finished within 3 percentage points of each other -- battlegrounds towns that will be among the most hotly contested in 2008.

From Burnsville, where Bush won by 1.2 percentage points, to Shoreview, where Kerry won by 1.3, to the tiny Dakota County town of New Trier (a 33-33 tie), neighbors straddle the great American political divide.

In Coon Rapids, 18-year-old Alex Pouliot has been working hard for Romney, even going to Iowa to campaign for him before last month's caucuses.

The state deputy chairman of the Minnesota Teenage Republicans, Pouliot began to take interest in politics about three years ago, a passion sparked by a U.S. history class. He remembers reading about robber barons and taxation.

"I thought, that's not fair, these people earned their money," said Pouliot, adding that abortion is important to him because he's Catholic.

He supports Romney because "he's the best choice for Republicans. He's good on fiscal issues and he won in Massachusetts even though he has a pro-life stance and is pro traditional family. That was impressive."

Across the metro area, in Bloomington, Kelema Marie Lee waits for the Metro Mobility van to pick her up at her home in a senior-citizen high rise in Bloomington each morning. She loads her mobility scooter aboard, then heads to a warehouse near the Minneapolis impound lot to answer the phone for Clinton's campaign.

"My mind's good, but my body is broken," said Lee, who was injured years ago when an elevator car she was in dropped several floors. "So I've been campaigning for someone for about 15 years."

Lee worked on Bill Clinton's campaign, as well as several others. She has photos of herself with an All-star collection of Democrats, including the Clintons and John Edwards, who dropped out of the race last week, just after making a campaign stop in St. Paul.

After much soul searching this year, Lee is throwing her efforts behind Clinton.

"Besides being a woman, she's sincere and has a dedication to helping people," Lee said. "She's strong and a great leader, she believes in her convictions and she loves her country."

Like the others, she knows that "volunteers are the essence of a campaign. They [candidates] just can't afford to pay everyone."

'Crowds at our caucuses'

Back in Edina, the gathering at Arlowe's home listened to Obama's sister during a teleconference at the same time that Covnick was preparing across the street for the next night's Republican gathering.

The Obama supporters ranged from 12-year-old Sami Rahamim, who said he makes 30 calls a day for Obama from his home, to Bob and Linda Duffy, both 67, who said they're getting involved because no candidate since the 1960s has inspired them the way Obama has.

"For me, Obama is like nothing I've seen in my lifetime," Arlowe said. "He's changing the partisanship we've been dealing with the past several years."

People at Arlowe's gathering talked about the war in Iraq, changing the world's perception about America and finding "common ground."

Covnick's guests were more concerned with the economy and terrorism.

"Obviously the economy is very important in my neighborhood, and taxes," she said. "Unless another terrorist attack happens somewhere. [The issues] are just so volatile right know, just like the stock market. ...

"I grew up in Edina. I'm very protective of it."

She said that the Edina of bygone years didn't allow laundromats or car washes, and that "we get National Geographic, not the National Enquirer. We don't even like buses coming through. But the Democrats are moving in from Kenwood and downtown condos."

Which means one thing: "We expect crowds at our caucuses."

Jon Tevlin • 612-673-1702