In an election that has attracted little national heat, it sure has attracted national political stars.

This month alone, former President Clinton, First Lady Michelle Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie have traveled to Minnesota to stump for candidates. U.S. senators from both parties also have lent their wattage to the state’s premier races.

The high-profile visits have some folks scratching their heads. With a governor’s race and U.S. Senate race leaning toward Democratic incumbents: Why are they here?

For Democrats, much of the answer lies in one word: turnout.

“We know that Democrats tend to vote less in nonpresidential years and we have to make sure that doesn’t happen,” said Katharine Tinucci, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton’s campaign manager. Since more Minnesotans than ever are voting by absentee ballot well before Election Day, the push started early.

According to a Star Tribune analysis, between 2008, a presidential election year, and 2010, the last midterm election year, 25 House districts saw a turnout drop of more than 30 percent.

“When the midterms came along, too many of our people just tuned out. And that’s what folks on the other side are counting on this year, because they know that when we stay home, they win,” Michelle Obama exhorted a crowd of 2,200 in a Minneapolis high school last week.

Dayton and Franken appeared with President Clinton, Hillary Clinton and First Lady Obama. Hillary Clinton headlined a fundraiser for Dayton, with tickets going for between $150 and $2,500, and Franken brought in Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Jon Tester, D-Mont. Also Thursday, Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, who is in one of the nation’s most expensive House races, hosted Biden at Hibbing Community College.

Democratic all-stars are popular with DFL faithful, but they give Republicans an opportunity: When the travelers arrive, they come with baggage.

“Biden and Nolan see eye to eye on so many issues, but what they don’t get is that those issues are completely out of touch with our Minnesota way of life,” said Stewart Mills, Nolan’s Republican opponent.

Republican candidates have brought in fewer stars this year. Christie, the New Jersey governor, stopped by for a morning early in October to raise cash and tour a school with senate candidate Mike McFadden and gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson.

“I’m not going to any place where I think our candidate can’t win,” Christie told reporters.

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, a Republican who leapt from the business world to the Senate, has campaigned with McFadden. He is one of the few whom the McFadden campaign has welcomed.

“We want to make sure that surrogates fit with the brand of Mike McFadden, problem solvers who can reach [across] the aisle and win in blue states,” said Tom Erickson, McFadden deputy campaign manager.

 

Data editor Glenn Howatt contributed to this report.