Senate race highlights vote
ST. PAUL - A bruising, noisy and tight U.S. Senate campaign ends today when voters cast their ballots.
But vote counting could stretch late into the night - and into early Wednesday - as pre-election polls show the race a toss-up.
The two major candidates pulled in national political heroes to find every last vote they could. Al Franken brought in U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, while ex-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani campaigned for Sen. Norm Coleman.
The Senate contest vies with the John McCain-Barack Obama presidential race as the highlight for most Minnesotans, most of whom can vote today between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. Both races are close in Minnesota, with Republican McCain pulling close to Democrat Obama in recent polls.
Franken took a brief detour from the campaign trail Monday - before Clinton arrived for a Duluth rally -- to stop at his St. Paul headquarters, where he called voters and thanked supporters.
"Now stop listening to me and get back on the phone," he joked at the end of a short pep talk to volunteers seated around tables and armed with phones and Democratic get-out-the-vote talking points.
Franken and other Democrats emphasized the strength of their voter mobilization strategy. It included a barrage of telephone calls and door-knocking. It is believed to be the strongest such effort made by the party.
At the headquarters, Franken sat down next to his wife, Franni, and two grown children and dialed for votes for about 15 minutes.
"I got one live person," Franken said afterward, "and she thought I was a robo-call for a while."
Wearing blue jeans and boots, the Democrat said bringing Clinton to Minnesota was not a signal that he was having trouble getting support among northeastern Minnesotans.
Franken said he was asking people who may split their ticket -- voters who might support Obama but then cross over and vote for GOP Sen. Norm Coleman - to look to the future.
"I think that Obama's going to need a working majority in the U.S. Senate," Franken said.
Coleman on Monday found himself back where his political career began.
Giuliani and GOP congressional candidates joined Coleman to rally supporters at St. Paul's O'Gara's Bar and Grille.
Coleman recalled how he sought support from the bar's former owner when he first ran for St. Paul mayor in 1993.
The O'Gara's rally was one of more than a dozen campaign stops for Coleman in the final hours before polls open. He and Giuliani also urged Republicans to get friends and neighbors to the voting booth today to support presidential candidate Sen. John McCain.
The first-term senator asked his supporters to put everything they've got into helping him win a second term by getting people to the polls.
"This is your time," Coleman said. "We've done the things we can do."
Giuliani fired up the crowd by singling out Franken.
"I've seen how nasty his opponent has become, and I've got to believe the people of Minnesota have had enough," Giuliani said.
The most recent SurveyUSA poll shows the Minnesota Senate and presidential races are virtual ties.
Obama lead by 6 points two weeks ago in the SurveyUSA poll, conducted for Hubbard Broadcasting. Now McCain has pulled to within 3 points, within the poll's margin of error.
Also too close to call is a proposed constitutional amendment voters will decide today that would raise the state sales tax 0.375 percent for 25 years to fund outdoors and arts programs. SurveyUSA says 39 percent of poll respondents say the will vote for the measure and 32 percent say they will vote against it. However, the remaining voters had not made their decision even as Election Day approached.
A Star Tribune poll shows the amendment leading 53 to 41, but support fell in recent weeks.
The question mark about the amendment is whether voters actually mark the ballot for it. State law requires a "no" vote to be recorded if a voter leaves the amendment question blank.
Two state Supreme Court justices and an Appeals Court judge are being challenged in races that have garnered little attention. And all eight U.S. House members are up for election.
All 134 Minnesota House seats are on the ballot today, with the question being whether Democratic-Farmer-Laborites can get a veto-proof majority. If they win 90 seats, they join the Senate with such large DFL majorities that they could override any veto from Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty.