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GOP leaders ‘welcome’ Obama for Tuesday night party

Did Democrats fire a shot across the bow of the Republican Party’s ship of state by booking the Xcel Energy Center for Sen. Barack Obama’s appearance in St. Paul Tuesday night? After all, the St. Paul arena — home of the Minnesota Wild — will be the site of the Republican National Convention Sept. 1-4.

Local Republicans had sent  an e-mail  Friday night noting a media reference to Obama’s “gambit” in coming to St. Paul for what could be the Democratic contender’s  “Cinch the Endorsement” announcement and victory party.

But this afternoon in a telephone news conference, Republican National Committee Chairman Mike Duncan and Minnesota GOP Chairman Ron Carey ostensibly were welcoming Obama to town.

A chance to compare?
Carey said Republicans are very happy that Obama chose to “end the primary season” in St. Paul. It will, he said, be the end of “happy talk” by Obama and give Minnesotans a good chance to compare the Democrat with presumptive Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain.

“Barack Obama is still largely unknown, and events like this will show the real Barack Obama, not the PR machine,” Carey said.

Obama’s folks see the Xcel as a natural place to mark a campaign shift. “It’s the place where John McCain will accept the nomination,” Robert Gibbs, Obama’s communications director, said in Associated Press story. “It’s a good place for us to kick off the next phase of the campaign.”

And Duncan, when asked if the Obama appearance was an “in your face” gesture, said: “It shows we picked the right city and the right state [for our convention].”

Xcel is, after all, a public building, and is home to all kinds of events, Duncan noted. “The important thing will be in 91 days when we are there to nominate John McCain.”

Carey said it’s “very telling that [Obama] is coming here; it shows that the Upper Midwest is in play and that if they don’t put on a full-court press, the trend lines will cross and put Minnesota and maybe Wisconsin in the [Republican] win column.”

Is Minnesota trending Republican?
Asked to elaborate about those trend lines, Carey said that in 1984 Minnesota was the only state to vote against Ronald Reagan — by supporting Minnesotan Walter Mondale’s bid. But by 2000, “we came within 90,000 votes of voting for George Bush and basically replicated that in 2004,” he said.  “The momentum is going in our direction.”

Gov. Tim Pawlenty, he said, has predicted that demographic changes and shifts in philosophy will give Republicans a majority in the state in the next few years.

Duncan was asked: If Minnesota is so important, should Pawlenty be the vice-presidential candidate?

Replied Duncan, who was on the committee to select vice-presidential options for George Bush in 2000: “There are a lot of people who deserve to be considered. We have an embarrassment of  riches. Tim Pawlenty is one of those. He’s a successful two-term governor, with good ratings in the state, and he’s known throughout the country.”

Republicans haven’t yet decided whether to have a physical presence in St. Paul for the Obama event, but will be sure to offer commentary, Carey said.

“It may be better to just articulate the sharp contrasts in policy between Barack Obama and John McCain,” he said.

McCain plans a June 19 fundraising event in Minnesota, but it’s unknown yet whether it will be a public appearance.

“Minnesota will be such a battleground state that I’m sure we’ll see John McCain here multiple times,” Carey said. “I’d be surprised if we don’t see him campaign here often in the next five months. But whether there’s a public event this month still remains to be seen.”

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