Minnesota voters find themselves in an unusual position this presidential campaign season. For the first time in a long time they're being targeted and lumped among a select group of swing states.
Both President Bush and Democratic candidate John Kerry are paying ample attention to the state, visiting frequently and dispatching a steady stream of surrogates as well. Neither wants to let the other go unchecked, and for good reason.
The X-factor could be independent Ralph Nader. In 2000, he attracted 5 percent of the vote as a Green Party candidate. Summer polls had him barely registering this time around.
The presidential race is easily the marquee matchup for Minnesota this year as there are no contests for Senate or governor.
On the congressional front, all incumbents are running in a delegation split evenly between Republicans and Democrats.
Two-term Rep. Mark Kennedy, a Republican in the state's 6th District, might have the most visible challenger. Well-known missing children's advocate Patty Wetterling is running against Kennedy in her first bid for public office.
Kennedy is one of the state's more well-financed and ambitious Republicans. Kennedy won his congressional seat in 2000 by upsetting four-term Democrat David Minge. Finding himself in a new district after congressional boundaries were redrawn in 2002, Kennedy chased out another incumbent Democrat, Bill Luther, who ran unsuccessfully in another district.
Kennedy is widely expected to run for the U.S. Senate in 2006 and questions abound as to how his efforts to keep his House seat could affect his future ambitions. Assuming he retains his House seat, a Wetterling challenge could tie him down this election year and force him to spend his $607,000 treasury, or it could raise his profile and boost his reputation.
A close fight is expected in the state's 2nd Congressional District, where first-term incumbent Republican John Kline will face Teresa Daly, a corporate executive. Kline, who won by knocking off then Democratic Rep. Bill Luther in 2000, says he expects a close race.
The other six congressmen appear safe.
In his first term as Governor, Tim Pawlenty's success so far has been balancing a $4.5 billion budget deficit without a tax increase, a pledge from the campaign trail. He won a three-way race to replace Jesse Ventura in 2002.
Pawlenty's election _ part of a state GOP landslide in 2002 _ ratified the state's move to the right.
He's been taking the state on a rightward turn: creating a 24-hour waiting period for women seeking abortions and allowing most Minnesotans the right to carry a concealed handgun.
While Pawlenty has said he is not thinking about any higher office, nor even running for a second term as governor, he consistently lays out 10-year plans and otherwise talks as if he plans to be around awhile.
In the 2002 Senate race, Former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman squeaked past former Vice President (and former senator) Walter Mondale, the last-minute Democratic sub for incumbent Paul Wellstone, who was killed in a plane crash on Oct. 25, 2002, weeks before the election.